Father Jacques Mourad gladly took a phone call Thursday morning at the Monastery of Mar Musa in Nebek, Syria, and while he just spent five months in the hands of Islamic State militants, he did not sound at all bitter or defeated.
In fact, he spoke hopefully of moving on and answering God’s call to do things even greater.
With the translation assistance of Sister Houda Fadoul, who is affiliated with the monastery and its interfaith community, Father Jacques confirmed that he had been held by ISIS, but he did not want to discuss any details about his escape last weekend.
“It’s something that’s not easy to speak about, and we don’t want to speak about it,” Sister Houda said. “We’re very happy that he’s out, and we thank you very much for your prayers for us. We thank God for his release.”
There was more news for which to be grateful. At least 50 Christians taken hostage in August when jihadists of the Islamic State took over Father Mourad’s town of Qaryatayn were also released on Sunday. Fides reported that they were able to return to the villages of Zaydal and Fairuzeh in an area controlled by the Syrian government army. Their release, confirmed by local Assyrian media, took place a few hours after Father Mourad’s. He was carrying out negotiations to restore freedom to more than 200 Christians and Muslims in Qaryatayn still under the control of the jihadists.
Father Jacques told an Italian Catholic television station this week that he escaped by dressing as an Islamist and fleeing on a motorcycle with the help of a Muslim friend.
In May, armed gunmen came to the Monastery of St. Elian in Quaryatayn, where he was prior, and abducted him and a deacon. For much of his time in ISIS hands, he was in Raqqa, the Islamic State “capital.”
The monastery of St. Elian, adjoining the city of Qaryatayn, is about 60 miles from Palmyra. It was known for having hosted in 2013 and 2014 several hundred Muslim and Christian refugees fleeing neighboring villages.
Two months after Father Mourad’s abduction, the town and the monastery were swarmed with Islamists, and the monastery was demolished. In addition, 230 people, including 60 Christians, were kidnapped.
In the interview with Aleteia, Father Jacques declined to answer whether his escape made the situation worse for those still in the hands of ISIS.
“The most important thing is that he’s outside now, and we have to be very careful about the other part inside,” Sister Houda said. “It’s not easy” to answer the question of what is going on with them and what can be done to help them, she said.
Father Jacques preferred to speak about his ordeal and how he “felt the presence of Jesus inside” his confinement.
“When they got him it was not easy for him, but at one point he felt that he was going to be free. Even though he suffered so much, he suffered so much, he felt it was better for him to renew himself,” Sister Houda relayed.
In response to a question about St. Elian, the fifth-century monastery he had rebuilt, Father Jacques said, “We don’t think about it. I can’t tell you this. Nobody can tell you this. It’s impossible to go back to Quaryatyn for the moment, and nobody knows for the future. We have to pray.”
And now? What are his plans?
“I plan to take some time, stay alone, pray, go out of this experience and after that maybe I will see what I have to do,” he said. “I want to see the light of God to guide me to put in my heart what I have to do. I’m sure God will ask me to do something bigger after this difficult experience.”
Father Jacques declined to offer any opinion on what needs to be done to bring the Syrian conflict to an end, saying, “Nobody can answer this question. We are monks, we pray, we hope that our country will pass through this difficult time. It’s not our part. We are just waiting and praying and hoping for our people.”
The situation of another group of Christians—more than 200 Assyrians in the Khabour River Valley—kidnapped by jihadists during an offensive in February remains unknown. Last week, jihadi websites released showing the execution of three members of this group. Another three then went on camera to say that more will be executed if a ransom is not paid.