A Syrian priest, whose appointment as archbishop was confirmed by Pope Francis on Jan. 7, shared the difficult times he spent being held hostage by the Islamic State (ISIS) terrorist group and the importance of the “spirit of forgiveness.”

In a statement to ACI Prensa, CNA’s Spanish-language sister news agency, Father Jacques Mourad, elected archbishop of Homs, Syria, by the Synod of Bishops of the Patriarchal Church of Antioch of the Syrians, Eastern-rite Catholics in communion with Rome, recalled that when he was kidnapped by ISIS along with a postulant from his congregation, the jihadists were trying to “convert us to Islam.”

However, despite the risk of death, he recalled in that situation how other Christians “had the courage and enthusiasm to respond in order to testify to their faith.”

Despite the danger our lives were in, he stressed, “we are disciples of Jesus crucified and risen.”

It was precisely under these conditions, he noted, that he learned “a magnificent example of forgiveness.”

“One of the jihadists condemned me to death, put a knife to my neck, and threatened me,” he said.

“I didn’t feel anger, nor hatred, nor any feeling of violence against him,” Mourad said, and acknowledged that “I was surprised myself, because normally if someone hits me in the face, it’s normal to return the blow to his face, but in that moment I didn’t feel any ill feeling against him.”

The new archbishop was kidnapped by Islamic terrorists on March 21, 2015, when an armed group entered the Mar Elian Monastery in Syria and took him away along with a postulant from his congregation.

Archbishop-elect Mourad said that his captors are “in my prayers” every day.

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“I ask forgiveness for them and I continue to, because normally it is God who gives this grace of forgiveness and absolution of all sins,” he said.

An archdiocese of poor Christians

Regarding his appointment, the new prelate noted that Homs had not had an archbishop since June 2020, when Archbishop Théophile Philippe Barakat died.

“For us it’s very important that after this long wait we have a bishop to help us with the structure of the Church, so that he can continue advancing and developing his mission with the laity who have remained faithful and attentive to the situation in the country,” he said.

The majority of the faithful of the archdiocese, he explained, “are peasants who farm, produce, and live off their hard labor. Most of our families are poor, and they’re getting poorer due to the economic crisis that’s going on in our country due to sanctions and corruption.”

The crisis in Syria began in 2011, in the midst of protests of the so-called “Arab spring,” which led to the overthrow of rulers in some countries in the region.

Muslim terrorist groups such as Al Qaeda and the Islamic State joined the protests demanding the departure of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. The violence sparked a civil war, with the Syrian government having Russia and Iran as allies, and Turkey as an adversary.

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Hundreds of thousands have died in the war, and while the violence has decreased in recent years, an economic crisis still grips the country and its people.

In a region where Orthodox Christians and Muslims coexist, the archbishop-elect explained that “when we have activities to distribute things like at Christmas, we cannot only consider our Christians, or Syrian Catholics, because we have to share everything with others.”

“It’s not a nice witness that things are exclusively ours. That’s why we try to involve others in our activities, because this is the good witness of Christ’s love for the whole world,” he said.

This story was first published by ACI Prensa, CNA’s Spanish-language news partner. It has been translated and adapted by CNA.