FACE TO FACE WITH KIDNAPPERS
A Christian priest of the Chaldean rite Saad Sirop Hanna, was abducted in Bagdad 13 years ago. At that time there he was the only priest there, did not want to leave his believers. Today he is a PhD of philosophy and bishop. That day, after the Holy Mass he got into a car. At one moment he noticed two other cars following him. The one in which he was going, got surrounded. Kidnappers jumped out of those cars, aimed a gun at his temples, handcuffed him, folded a black band on his eyes and threw him into a car boot. He was trapped for 28 days. The culprits called him a ‘goods’ or ‘a ram’. They were transporting him into different places nearly every day – to blur any traces. They were beating him with truncheons, kicking him, and insulting him. Every day he was standing on the edge of life and death. The kidnappers were transporting him in the car boot to various hidings – like Fr. Jerzy Popiełuszko had been tortured 35 years before. They threatened to kill him, or he would denounce his…. faith and convert to Islam. He did not do it. And he was not killed. God had different plans for him. Fr. Hanna often said: ‘Lord is my light and salvation; so, whom shall I be afraid of? Lord is a defender of my life: so, whom shall I feel fear of?’ (see Ps. 27.1).
On the edge of life and death
‘Under influence of the first blow which was aimed at my side, I felt something in my elbow. I did not have enough time to move, gather strength for what was to happen, as after that I was hit again. This time straight at my back and a lot of blows fell onto me. Two men were hitting me with sticks. Shouting the word ‘kafir’ (unbeliever) among their grunts caused by effort. Kafir! – they were shouting, hitting me more strongly. Kafir – and their stick was in the air falling onto my bruises which I had treated so delicately a while before. Lots of pain was exploding on my back and I was catching breath with difficulty, breathing in air, which was thrown from my lungs by every blow, like hiccup. Kneeling, I felt I was melting. Because I had my hands handcuffed on my back, I could not protect my head, I could not defend at all from what I was experiencing’ – wrote bishop Saad Sirop Hanna in his book ‘Kidnapped in Iraq’, which came out thanks to the Edition of St. Paul Publishing House. The incredible book as written by the priest who was fighting with himself for 28 days, being on the edge of life and death, and who was saying after Jesus: ‘Father, everything is possible for You, please, take away this chalice from me. But it is not as I want, but You who want [may it happen so]’ (Mk 14.36).
The description of tortures used towards the Iraq priest, full of religious and political hatred, has a particular feature: there is a similar description of tortures which were experienced by Fr. Jerzy Popiełuszko, attacked by communists and other priests murdered for faith: Rudolf Marszałek, Władysław Findysz or Roman Kotlarz. Persecutors were similar both there and here. Also the victims – were tortured and murdered. By communists, by German Nazis. Some victims were murdered for their different religion, others for faith. However, tortures were with the same force. With hatred. Murders were done with cold blood.
I knew that God would always be with me
‘Happy those who care about peace, as they were called God’s sons. Happy those who are persecuted for justice, as God’s kingdom belongs to them. You are happy when you are treated badly, persecuted or insulted because of Me’ (see Mt 5, 9-11). The bishop quotes another fragment of the Holy Scripture and writes on: ‘My fear did not disperse completely. From time to time I still felt how he was suffocating me. When they pressed a gun against my temples, when in the middle of night bullets were let off, when I was lying crouched in the car boot, and the journey was getting longer, I felt fear. However, those words were a challenge for me. For my faith, for my entrustment to Christ and God. (…) Truly speaking, I did not expect a sign then, and only later did I understand the meaning of that challenge and a lesson it taught me. I sometimes thought that it was an invitation to martyrdom. (…) I cannot say that this thought made me fearful. I kept cold blood during the situation of a trial when death seemed the most realistic ending of my faithfulness to faith but I was scared of another trial and who I would turn out to be. (…) I felt that the only sign I received would be my death or survival. My faith did not guarantee that I would survive, but that God would be with me regardless of the ending.
The book written by bishop Hanna is incredible, as it says about the closeness of a man with God for two days, for a day, for a second before…the unknown. It says about self-trial. In the truth. Without heroism, without pathos. This is a book which is unusually pure. The author does not conceal that he definitely rejected a feeling of hatred towards his kidnappers. He also placed his thanks in it to one terrorists guarding him, who was supporting him in suffering and also gave some hope for his survival.
Touched with faith
However, it was my faith which gave me strength – said bishop Hanna during an authorship meeting in May, promoting his book in the headquarter of the Polish Episcopate. – This is faith in God which let me survive from those 28 difficult days and gave hope for my freedom. Thanks to it I also had strength to have discussion and dispute with the people who had kidnapped me. And not to hate them.
When he was saying about his hopeless situation then, the bishop often referred to his childhood. The time when he was ‘touched with great faith’, when he made a decision about becoming a priest. He also mentioned about his father’s protest who wanted his son to do secular studies. And he did so. He became an engineer of aeronautics. But he did not stop thinking about priesthood. And, finally – a seminary which he graduated from as the best one and which formed his maturity, made him strong in his love to God. He had his own reflections during the time of being kidnapped, being blindfolded, being closed in a dark room and he often asked himself sometimes childish but fundamental questions: Wasn’t I enough good for you? Didn’t I do everything you asked me to? Didn’t I help people when I could? Why am I experiencing it? Why am I in this place? What sense does it make?’. He was asking, asking, asking. But he did not get any answer. At that moment and today. The same questions he asks in his book, which he wrote after a few years after being kidnapped. He wanted to reflect on his fear through this story. However, the book was written in order to show the situation of the Christians in Iraq – he emphasized. Their tragedy and indifference of the world to their fate. He wanted to tell everyone about depriving them of their homes, expelling them from their country, depriving them of a possibility to learn, work. The book is also a journey through many centuries of Christianity in Near East. And about the country touched with faith.
Translated by Aneta Amrozik
Niedziela 22/2019 (2 VI 2019)