By Joe Higgins Free at last: SOS Chretiens d’Orient volunteers in Syria earlier this year.
FORMER Brisbane Catholic teacher Ora Duffley has welcomed the release of her charity worker friends from captivity in Iraq.
French Catholics Antoine Brochon, Julien Dittmar, Alexandre Goodarzy and Iraqi Catholic Tariq Mattoka were released after being held captive for 66 days while working for SOS Chretiens d’Orient in Baghdad.
The Catholic charity workers were captured on January 20 and returned to France on March 29.
No group claimed responsibility and no ransom was received.
Long-time member of SOS Chretiens d’Orient, Miss Duffley said two of the captives were friends of hers and she knew the other two in passing.
Seeing them freed, she said was “prayer in action”.
“It is such a joy to welcome them home after all this time in captivity and to know that in their darkest days they were sustained by a blanket of prayer and faith,” she said.
“I feel overjoyed for them, for their families and I am proud of them.
“Particularly poignant that they are released as COVID-19 has brought about a global quarantine, but at a time when people are scared and unsure, we can see through this story and against the odds, through the power of prayer these fathers, brothers, sons made it home.”
She said Mr Goodarzy was a good friend and she went to his wedding in Syria in 2018.
“My heart went out to his wife and their baby son when the four disappeared,” she said.
“A huge campaign of prayer, Masses … was organised and it was an important and moving experience to be part of that.
“This organisation is Catholic and the French mobilised to storm heaven and secure their release.”
The three French captives spoke to camera in a video posted on Facebook, offering their thanks to all those who had supported them in their captivity.
“It was a very difficult time for us,” Mr Goodarzy said in the video.
“Over time, we offer all this to the Lord.
“At first we prayed a lot for ourselves.
“Then little by little, we forgot about ourselves and offered it all, especially during this Lent.”
He said the prayers and support from friends and people he didn’t even know “moved our hearts” and was “beyond what we had imagined”.
Miss Duffley said Mr Mattoka, the only Iraqi Catholic captured, was an “amazingly positive, uplifting and generous person”.
She remembered he had invited all the SOS Chretiens d’Orient volunteers to celebrate his son’s First Holy Communion, which was “a very precious moment”.
SOS Chretiens d’Orient is a non-government organisation helping persecuted Christians living in the Middle East.
As well as providing emergency aid and medical care to Christian refugees in Iraq, SOS Chretiens d’Orient also helps displaced persons to return to the lands where their ancestors lived.
It’s young and dynamic members, work on a 24 /7 basis the field supporting the Christians of the East, whether Orthodox or Catholic, providing concrete and humanitarian material aid.