Wednesday, January 19, 2005

Papal appeal won kidnapped archbishop's freedom

Mosul, Jan. 19 (FIDES/ - In an interview with the Fides news service shortly after he was released by kidnappers in Iraq, Archbishop Basile Georges Casmoussa his abductors decided to release him after hearing an appeal from Pope John Paul II.

"Thank you, Holy Father; your immediate intervention was instrumental for my quick release," the Syrian Catholic archbishop said.

Although only hours had passed since his captors set him free Archbishop Casmoussa was willing to talk about his experience. "I did not count my captors; some of them wore masks, some did not. They accused me of being a collaborator with the Americans but, as we conversed, they realized that I work instead for the unity and sovereignty of our country at peace with all the neighboring nations", he told Fides.

"Gradually as the hours passed I saw their determination weaken. They were no longer convinced that I was an adversary, a hated enemy to kill. This morning, before I was released, one of my captors said, obviously deeply impressed that the Pope had appealed for my release: 'The Pope himself asked us to set you free,' he said. It was then that I realized that I would be released and I must say this firm hope sustained me all along," the archbishop said.

"The most dramatic moment was yesterday evening when they told me to say my last prayer," recalled the Archbishop of Mosul. "I prayed out loud asking God to forgive my sins and then, looking at my captors, I asked God to help the Iraqi people find once again peace, harmony and unity. I think this instilled respect in my captors and that my prayer played a fundamental role in my liberation."

"I wish to thank God for the gift of life, the gift of freedom and for all those who supported me with their prayers. I wish also to thank the Holy Father and those who work with him for their valid, rapid and discrete assistance. I would also like to thank the media for making my abduction known which helped to put pressure on my captors."

The archbishop offered some details about his release: "When they decided to release me they made me hide in the boot [truck] of a car, as they did when they took me hostage. They left me in a district of Mosul from where I was able to call the bishops' residence and ask the staff to come and fetch me. But when after some time the car had not appeared, I took a taxi to my home."

"This experience gave me time to meditate on the profound meaning of life and death. It strengthened by faith and my determination to make my contribution towards restoring unity and harmony among the Iraqi people. May Iraq be once again a united country and a country of peace," concluded Archbishop Casmoussa.

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