ROME – Father Maurizio Pallù, an Italian missionary priest who’d been kidnapped last Friday in Nigeria, was released on Tuesday just before midnight. Afterwards, he said that he’s seen the “great miracles” God performed to keep him alive.

“I’m fine, very happy!” Pallù told Vatican Radio on Wednesday, the day of his 63rd birthday. “The Lord has risen, he’s accompanied me, I’ve had moments of fear but I have to say that I really felt the help of the saints, the Virgin Mary, [and] of Carmen Hernandez [co-founder of the Neocatecumenal Way].”

The priest said that this is the second time he’s been kidnapped in the past year, but this experience was harder than the first one: “I have seen the great miracles the Lord has performed to keep us alive,” he said.

His liberation, Pallù said, “means that the Lord has a great plan for this country, because the devil is attacking it with great force to destroy God’s work in this nation.”

Both times he was kidnapped, Pallù noted in the interview, fell on the feast of Our Lady of Fatima, October 13. The first time, “thanks to a miracle of the Madonna,” he said, he and his companions were released in less than two hours. This time they were taken on the eve of the feast, and kept for five days.

“As a matter of fact, I was going to Benin City where the Nigerian bishops celebrated the re-consecration of Nigeria to the Virgin Mary, and I wanted to be there on Oct. 13 for this great Eucharist,” he said. “Instead, I spent Oct. 13 in the forest and I received a sign of the maternal attention of Mary.”

According to his confreres of the Neocatecumenal Way, the priest seems to be in good shape. He will travel back to Abuja. He’s been asked to travel to Italy for a few days. According to his interview with Vatican Radio, he doesn’t want to do so but has agreed, only to then head back to the African nation immediately.

“I would like to stay here, because the devil is defeated by staying here, the devil is cowardly, he wants us to be scared but has chosen the wrong way because we are poor men and we are afraid but are supported by the grace of God,” he said.

The devil, Pallù said, is keeping millions enslaved in Nigeria with “lies, cowardice and corruption.” Once the priest is cleared to return, he will do so “very happy” and offer himself for the country’s evangelization.

On Sunday, according to several Italian reports, Pallù had been able to call his mother to let her know that he was fine, and he had told her he would soon be released. This was confirmed by his 92-year old mother Laura during a vigil prayer at a parish in northern Florence.

No information has been given by Nigeria as to who was responsible for the kidnapping, though according to Italian daily La Stampa, it was a group of local criminals. The crime took place in the southern Benin City, far from the strongholds of Islamic terrorist organization Boko Haram.

The priest was kidnapped while he was driving on the outskirts of Benin with four other people, all Nigerians. Only three of them were taken, according to the priest. They were led to a nearby forest, and the group remained there, with little to no food.

The Italian paper also reports on a phone call Pallù made on Tuesday after being freed to people “close to him,” in which he told them the criminals had clashed among themselves, with one of them wanting to kill the prisoners, boasting of having killed four other people before, and the head of the group, with whom the priest established “good rapport,” who made the decision to free them.

On Friday afternoon Rome time, papal spokesman, American Greg Burke, went on Twitter to say that Pope Francis was informed of the kidnapping of Father Maurizio Pallù, 63, and “is praying for him.”

The priest is originally from Florence, but belongs to the diocese of Rome. He has been in Nigeria for the past three years.