For 19 Months, Gulfport Woman's Uncle At Hostage Takers' Mercy

A coast woman says the family of Iraqi hostage Thomas Hamill needs God and an iron will to get through this ordeal. Illinois native Kay Mihelich knows because her relatives lived through the same nightmare almost 20 years ago. In 1985 her uncle, a Catholic priest working in Beirut, Lebanon, was kidnapped and taken hostage.

The images released by the hostage takers were troubling yet full of hope. At least, the pictures gave, Father Martin Jenco's niece and the rest of the family the assurance that he was still alive.

"It was like a roller coaster, sometimes there would be plenty of news and then there would be long periods of time when there was no news," said Mihelich.

In his book, "Bound to Forgive" Father Jenco tells his experience as a hostage of Islamic terrorists in Beirut for more than a year. While at home, the family spent every single Monday night praying together, and organizing news conferences, rallies and letter writing campaigns.

"Helplessness could have lead to hopelessness." she says. "There were times when some family members would be down and others would rally and help pick their spirits up."

In July of '86, Jenco was released. The world watched the cheers, smiles of freedom. Jenco's relatives heard about the horrors and uncertainties of captivity.

"Those 19 months were just a horrendous time of not knowing from moment to moment if you were going to live or die and not knowing from moment to moment where you were going to be next" said Mihelich

Mihelich remembers that time as tough but full of life lessons on family, forgiveness, hope and what it means to persevere.

Kay Mihelich says her uncle bypassed an earlier chance at freedom. When the terrorists asked the hostages to select one person to be released, Father Jenco's vote went to another prisoner who'd been there longer. Jenco died in 1996.