Damascus (AsiaNews) – For Syria’s Syriac Catholic community, this is a time of rejoicing because of Fr Jacques Mourad’s newfound freedom but also of anxiety, “great concern” and prayers for the fate of more than 190 Christian hostages from Al-Qaryatayn , a town southwest of Homs, still in the hands of Islamic State militiamen.
Fr Mourad’s escape has been greeted with great satisfaction. The clergyman, who was prior at the Mar Elian (St Julian) Monastery had been abducted in May. The building itself was blown up in August by the Islamic State group
A source close to Fr Mourad, contacted by AsiaNews, confirmed that he was not freed, but managed to escape from his captors.
Now many fear jihadi reprisals, especially since another 40 Christian hostages, also from Al-Qaryatayn, were able to escape yesterday. This, sadly, leaves some 190 in IS hands, exposed to the militiamen’s vengeance.
For Fr Mourad though, the nightmare is over. A priest from the same community as Fr Paolo Dall'Oglio, he was in charge of the local Syriac Catholic parish for the past 12 years.
A friend and colleague of the Italian-born Jesuit priest, he was one of the first monks of the community of Mar Musa who refused to abandon his people, in spite of the threats of kidnapping and the dangers inherent in the conflict.
In an interview with TG2000, Mar Elian’s prior revealed some details of the past months in the hands of the Islamic State group.
"Almost every day, someone [from IS] would come into my cell and ask, 'Who are you?' I would answer, ‘I am a Nazarene, i.e. a Christian'. At that point, they would shout, ‘Then you're an infidel. And since you are an infidel, if you do not convert, we are going to cut your throat with a knife'. But I never signed a statement to renounce Christianity."
For Fr Mourad, his escape was a miracle, which "the good Lord gave me. Whilst I was a prisoner, I was waiting for the day of my death but with great inner peace. I had no problem with dying in the name of our Lord. I would not be the first nor the last, but one among the thousands of martyrs for Christ."
Dressed in a disguise, he managed to escape from Al-Qaryatayn on a motorcycle "with a Muslim friend". Now his thoughts are with the other Christian prisoners still in jihadi hands.
Nonetheless, he is grateful to “all those who prayed for my release. It is a miracle that I escaped from the hands of Daesh*, a miracle by the Virgin Mary."
* Daesh, is the acronym for ad-Dawlah al-Islāmiyah fī 'l-ʿIrāq wa-sh-Shām, or Islamic State of Iraq and ash-Sham.