Homs, Syria, Oct 15, 2015 / 05:03 am
A Syrian priest who was captured by Islamic State militants in May thought he would die for his faith. Now, he credits the Virgin Mary and the help of a Muslim friend for his escape.
"This is the miracle the Good Lord gave me: while I was a prisoner I was waiting for the day I would die, but with a great inner peace. I had no problem dying for the name of Our Lord; I wouldn't be the first or the last, just one of the thousands of the martyrs for Christ," the Syriac Catholic priest, Father Jacques Mourad, told Italian TV 2000.
"I want to thank all those who prayed for my liberation. It's truly a miracle that a priest has been freed from the hands of the Islamic State. A miracle that the Virgin Mary worked for me."
Father Mourad was prior of the Monastery of Mar Elian in the Syrian town of Al Qaryatayn, about 60 miles southeast of Homs.
He said he was captured with another young man on May 21 after the militants arrived at the monastery.
"The first four days we were in the mountains, locked up in the monastery's car we were captured in," he said. "On Aug. 11 we were taken to near Palmyra, where there are 250 other Christian prisoners from the city of Al Qaryatayn."
The Islamic State had captured Al Quaryatayn Aug. 6. Only around 30 Christians were able to escape the town for Homs after it was captured.
Father Mourad that his captors regularly asked him to declare his faith.
"Almost every day there was someone who came to my prison and asked me 'what are you?'
"I would answer: 'I'm a Nazarene, in other words, a Christian.'
"'So you're an infidel,' they shouted. 'Since you're a Christian, if you don't convert we'll slit your throat with a knife'."
Despite the threats, the priest refused to renounce Christ.
Father Mourad said he wore a disguise in order to escape.
"I escaped on a motorbike with the help of a Muslim friend. But now I'm working with an Orthodox priest and other Bedouin friends and a Muslim friend to free the 200 other Christians who are still imprisoned," he said.
According to the priest, 40 other Christians were able to escape the same day as his interview with Italian television.
On Oct. 10 Father Mourad celebrated his first Mass since his release, Agence France Presse reports.
The priest was also pastor of a parish in Al Qaryatayn, where he served as an active mediator between the Syrian army and rebel forces in their years-long civil war, Fides news agency said.
The Monastery of Mar Elian dated back 1,600 years and was the subject of restoration work in recent decades.
It provided refuge to hundreds of Syrians displaced from Al Qaryatayn, partnering with Muslim donors to provide for their needs.
However, Islamic State militants destroyed the monastery in August.
Since the Syrian civil war began in March 2011, more than 250,000 people have been killed. Four million have become refugees, and another 8 million Syrians are believed to have been internally displaced by the violence.