This Syrian Catholic priest was kidnapped and tortured by ISIS. He still has hope in humanity.


It became clear that I would need to follow the Rev. Jacques Mourad around all day.

To the kitchen, where he was preparing kebab with eggplants or demonstrating how to cut onions just so or washing dishes.

To the chapel, where he was picking away wax collecting on candle holders.

To the classrooms, where he was nodding his head as nuns from India attempted to recite the Mass in Arabic that he has spent months teaching them.

To the door, which he was always leaning out of, calling to someone in the street.

There was nothing too small, or nothing small enough, to occupy Father Jacques, for he believed that God was captured best in simplicity.

The woman called by name.

The prayer in the chapel, where only two of us had gathered beneath the rising Iraqi sunlight.

The coffee filled exactly to the correct level.

We are in the upstairs classroom, where he is seated at the head of a table, reciting the Mass in the Chaldean rite from a prayer book, carefully pronouncing the words in Arabic and Aramaic, waiting as the nuns recite them in return. He pauses, flustered.

The translation from Arabic to English that they have been consulting is not accurate.

The word hanan has been translated as “to pity.”

“No,” he says. “It should not be that the Lord has pity on us. The meaning is closer to tendresse. Tenderness.”

“This is important,” he insists. “The Lord doesn’t have pity on us from a distance. He is close to us, in his tenderness.”

This is not the way I expected to begin the story of a Syrian priest kidnapped by ISIS during Syria’s civil war, tortured and held in prison for five months before escaping and forgiving his captors.

What do onions mean in the scale of such a story? I had travelled to Iraq to hear more about how this man had survived, a Catholic priest rescued by his Muslim friend.

He would tell me that story, too. But in the meantime, he wanted me to learn about chopping onions.

I first met Father Jacques in 2004, when I was a student in Syria. I often visited the monastery of Mar Musa, where he was a member of al-Khalil, a monastic community of monks and nuns dedicated to dialogue with Islam. Continue reading

Additional reading

News category: Analysis and Comment.

Tags: ,