You helped set me free

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Priest tells how his humanitarian aid – sponsored by charities – inspired a friend to plot his escape
By John Pontifex
FATHER Jacques Mourad has told how he escaped Daesh (ISIS) in Syria with the help of a friend whose family had been helped by the priest’s programme of aid to the poor and disadvantaged.
Speaking out after nearly six months in the hands of the Islamist terror group, Fr Mourad said that with the help of the friend he had escaped Daesh-held Qaratayn on the back of a motorbike disguised as an Islamist fighter.
The friend – who had links with Daesh – had told Fr Mourad he was impressed by the priest’s humanitarian relief work in Qaratayn – food, shelter and medicine – funded by charities including Aid to the Church in Need.
In an exclusive interview with ACN, Fr Mourad said: “What ACN has done to help us has played a great role in setting me free”.
Fr Mourad, whose outreach to Muslims led him to be known as ‘Sheikh Jacques’, said that when Qaratayn’s water supplies were cut off he helped build a reservoir with the help of ACN.
He said he was convinced that this help had caused the militants to show leniency towards 150 Christians held hostage by Daesh in Qaratayn.
Speaking by telephone from Syria, Fr Mourad said: “The help of people such as you at ACN has helped protect the Christians in the hands of Daesh.”
Fr Mourad described how pressure from Muslims in Qaratayn had prompted his return to the city under house arrest following 84 days in a Daesh prison at the terror group’s headquarters in Raqqa, northern Syria.
He said: “One day, one of the ISIS leaders came to me and said: ‘Everybody in Qaratayn had been talking about you, asking for you.’ So he told me to come with him.
“I was led away – still blindfolded and with hands bound – and I was taken into what seemed like a huge tunnel.
“Some time later, they removed my blindfold and I could see all my parish in front of me in the shelter that ACN had built. It was amazing.”
Recalling his time in prison, Fr Mourad said that every day in the prison Islamists would threaten to kill him.
He added: “I was waiting for the moment when they would come and slit my throat.”
Fr Mourad said he was convinced his efforts to remain calm and at peace helped save his life.
“I was very conscious of the prayers of so many people – the prayers of St Ignatius of Loyola and Charles de Foucauld – ‘Father, I abandon myself into your hands; do with me what you will.’”

Editor’s Notes

Directly under the Holy See, Aid to the Church in Need supports the faithful wherever they are persecuted, oppressed or in pastoral need. ACN is a Catholic charity – helping to bring Christ to the world through prayer, information and action.

Founded in 1947 by Fr Werenfried van Straaten, whom St John Paul II named “An outstanding Apostle of Charity”, the organisation is now at work in more than 140 countries throughout the world.

The charity undertakes thousands of projects every year including providing transport for clergy and lay Church workers, construction of church buildings, funding for priests and nuns and help to train seminarians. Since the initiative’s launch in 1979, Aid to the Church in Need’s Child’s Bible – God Speaks to his Children has been translated into 176 languages and more than 51 million copies have been distributed all over the world.

Aid to the Church in Need UK is a registered charity in England and Wales (1097984) and Scotland (SC040748). ACN’s UK office is in Sutton, Surrey and there is a Scottish office in Motherwell, near Glasgow.

For more information, contact Dr John Newton, ACN Press Officer, 020 8661 5167 or Clare Creegan, Digital Media and Press Officer on 020 8661 5175.