FATHER MOURAD: MY DAYS IN THE HANDS OF ISIS
“Masked men came into the monastery of Mar Elian and abducted me along with a volunteer helper of ours, Boutros. They forced us into a car and then left us in the middle of the desert for four days, blindfolded and chained up. Then they took us to Raqqa, the capital of ISIS.”
So begins the account of Father Jacques Mourad, the Syrian priest kidnapped by IS on May 21 this year and finally freed on October 10. In a press conference organized by pontifical charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN), Father Mourad, a member of the religious community of Deir Mar Musa, founded by Father Paolo Dall’Oglio, was speaking for the first time about his long months of imprisonment.
Kept in a small bathroom
“In Raqqa they kept us shut up in a small bathroom,” Father Mourad continues. “They deliberately chose this place in order to humiliate us – but then our mission is to be humble, even in the face of violence.” In that small bathroom this priest and religious spent a full 84 days. “The jihadists frequently insulted us, but the most difficult moment was when they tried to intimidate us – ‘Either you convert to Islam or we cut off your head’.”
“In Raqqa they kept us shut up in a small bathroom”
During the long months of imprisonment Father Jacques found comfort in reciting the Rosary and in the prayer of abandonment of Charles de Foucauld, “a victim of violence who devoted his entire life to Christian-Islamic dialogue.” Father Mourad himself has likewise made interreligious dialogue the very heart of his mission, having for over 15 years supported all the families in Qaryatayn, without any distinction as to their faith. He believes that this work on behalf of religious dialogue may be what persuaded IS to abduct him. “Though undoubtedly the good I was able to do for the population, thanks also to the help of ACN, was a determining factor in my liberation. I am certain that this was one of the reasons that prevented IS from killing me.”
Muslim/Christian dialogue, a dangerous commitment
On August 11 Baghdadi men took hold of Father Mourad again and drove him off in a car. “I thought my last hour had come,” he recalls. “We travelled for over four hours, then the car stopped.” After getting out of the car, Father Jacques recognized a young man from his own parish. Behind him were the 250 Christians abducted by IS a few days earlier from Qaryatayn. They were now close to Palmyra and from there Father Jacques and his faithful would not return home until September 1. “We almost went back to a normal life, but we were absolutely forbidden from leaving the city.”
During the 40 days he spent in Qaryatayn, he was able to celebrate Mass in underground places, “both in order not to be seen while we were praying and in order to take shelter from the bombings”. Then on October 10, with the help of a Muslim man and a Syrian Orthodox priest, Father Jacques succeeded in escaping. “Life in Qaryatayn had become impossible – with no food, no water, no electricity.
Little by little all the Christians left the town. There are just 11 people left there, still in the hands of IS, while eight of the Christians have been killed by the jihadists.”
At the end of the press conference, Father Jacques wanted to express his thanks to ACN,” who for years now have been supporting the community of Deir Mar Musa,” and also to recall the plight of Father Paolo Dall’Oglio. “Let us pray that the miracle of his liberation may yet happen,” he said.
Since the beginning of the crisis in Syria, ACN has given over 12.5 million CAN in humanitarian and pastoral aid for the people of the country.
Marta Petrosillo, ACN International : email@example.com, Adapted by Amanda Bridget Griffin, ACN Canada: firstname.lastname@example.org
We would like to share with you a letter from Father Jacques Mourad to ACN Head of the Middle East Department received last October: