A priest’s personal account of captivity in Baghdad

Hanna’s book touches on many issues society must confront as the result of the evil and unjust actions of a few Islamic radicals.
December 24, 2017
Cover of Saad Sirop Hanna’s “Abducted in Iraq: A Priest in Baghdad.”

The Middle East continues to face affliction and conflict, whether cultural, political or, more predomi­nately, religious divides. Roman Catholic Bishop Saad Sirop Hanna offers an account of his experience as an Iraqi priest abducted and tortured for his beliefs.

“Abducted in Iraq: A Priest in Baghdad” is Hanna’s account of the traumas experienced in the face of evil and the strength found through faith.

This memoir reflects a jour­ney of endurance and a fight for survival. Hanna has a doctorate in philosophy, a degree in aero­nautical engineering, speaks four languages and has published many articles. “Abducted in Iraq,” a unique and exquisitely written account, however, is among his greatest works and captures the attention of the reader from start to end.

As a young parish priest in Iraq after studies in Rome, Hanna was abducted after celebrating mass on August 15, 2006, by a militant group associated with al-Qaeda. He was held in captivity for 28 days before his release.

Hanna’s book touches on many issues society must confront as the result of the evil and unjust actions of a few Islamic radicals, leaving most of the world in turmoil. He expresses sadness at the blasé attitude people feel forced to take for the harshness of real­ity not to destroy their soul.

“So much wrong fills the world we today inhabit, so great is the mass of injustice and brutal­ity, that for the survival of our sanity, we must corrode, at least in part, our capacity for empathy,” he wrote. “For if we were to truly mourn for every death, for every massacre, from Iraq to Nicaragua and from Papua New Guinea to Nigeria, we would grow mad in grief. And yet I cannot but feel there is a madness in not griev­ing.”

Amid the unmerciful actions of his capturers, Hanna said he recalled the kindness and companionship he experienced from one of them.

Abu Hamid is introduced in Chapter 5. He is a young man primar­ily in charge of cleaning the guns. The special rela­tionship between prisoner and guard is not only heart-warming, as Hanna said he remembers the loosening of the cuffs or the extra drinking water pro­vided, it is a reminder of how one’s life can be predestined with no choice “on how the circumstances of birth can deal out impediments and advantages like playing cards to people who had no hand in choosing their seats at the card table.”

The most prevalent theme, however, is the unstirred faith of this devoted priest. In the face of unjust and inhumane torture and beatings, through being screamed at to abandon his faith to adopt his captors’ way of life, this priest stood firm with his God and endured it all with reverence and thanksgiving. “If this is it, Lord, then I am ready,” — words of trust and surrender to a higher power in unutterable circumstances.

Through the 28 days in captivity and the tight grip of hope expe­rienced in every sentence — the hour-long drives to unknown des­tinations to a near escape through treacherous waters, only to be caught again — nothing stands out like the moment Hanna is set free. Minutes before that, one of his captors asked: “You don’t hate us, do you?”

The unanticipated question was answered with: “No, I don’t hate any person. My faith asks me to love all people. Even those who harm me.”

The main message from such a wonderfully honest memoir is the strength found in hope and faith. When faced with a helpless predicament and found power­less with no choice but to turn to a higher force, that power will see you through.

“Abducted in Iraq: A Priest in Baghdad” is a testimony to no matter how bleak a situation may be, clinging to love may be the only way to hope.