Father Jacques Mourad is a Syrian Catholic monk who was kidnapped in May 2015 in Syria. He was released after five difficult months of captivity.
In particular, he delivers his heart and thoughts to the many young people who gathered in the Aula Magna of Rome's Amaldi High School last Friday. Reviewing lucid memories of his imprisonment, he answered numerous questions from students of various schools in the capital's eastern quadrant. The discussion creates an ideal bridge between Tor Bella Monaca and Syria. These are suburbs where the common evil of violence manifests itself in different forms. Students ask if we will be able to build a different world after the wounds left by the pandemic, and Father Mourad replies that "the way to change the world considers everyone, especially young people! Adults feel guilty because we have left you, young people, with a sick land. We are responsible for changing life and the earth." Francesca, from the Youth for the Peace movement, recounts the rampant violence on the streets of Tor Bella Monaca such as the two recent shootings, which occurred in broad daylight in the past two months. For this reason, she asked Father Mourad about what young people can do to counter the violence. Father Mourad offers a surprising answer that comes from his own experience, "violence exists only when there is a violent reaction. If we welcome violence toward us with patience, love, and sensitivity, the violence goes away. I have always learned in my life not to react to the violence of others." He then adds, "Everything can be changed here too when we learn to believe that nothing is impossible."
Jacques Mourad recounts what his weapons were during his imprisonment, "The gift I had in the moment of imprisonment was to look at my captors in their eyes and to look for God in them. Where could God exist in such cruel people? I found a deep request from God to meet the man in these people. It was not easy, but I got to their heart with this look in their eyes. There were two weapons, then, I received two gifts: looking into their eyes to search for the man, and the second weapon was silence. Not reacting to violence was the strongest response; in fact, my jailers began to treat me less harshly. I remained silent with a small smile and a look of meekness."
Father Mourad tells what kept him alive during his captivity: prayer, which helped him find his balance and peace.
Marica, who is a student from Amaldi High School, asked if he had managed to forgive his captors. Subsequently, Father Mourad replies that "as a Christian, I cannot forgive. Forgiveness is a very effective weapon. It is not only a method of making peace but an attitude of limitless openness."
Taking up Pope Francis' image of "we are all in the same boat," he affirms that the world's boat is also heading toward death because of the environmental problem and the work we are all called to do, which is to witness, fight and change this situation. The change starts within ourselves. "The real miracle comes from within. What I experienced with my abduction and my return to life was a miracle. This miracle happened within me. The strength of my testimony, my confrontation, and the love I had toward my captors saved me.” Father Mourad argues “your real strength is having an inner life.”
Father Mourad, at the end of the meeting, tells how he managed to escape thanks to the help of some Muslims and, during the night before his freedom, he dreamed of a big window from which he would come out running and singing "I am free, I am free," even though he did not know English. The next day, fleeing on the motorcycle with Hammad, Fr. Mourad remembered the dream and sang "I am free, I am free." He concludes by saying: "freedom is not only physical independence but, above all, it is inner liberty. In my escape, I celebrated the inner freedom they could not take away from me."