Father Jacques Mourad, a Syriac Catholic monk and priest, has been elected Archbishop of Homs by the Synod of Bishops of the Church of Antioch.
Pope Francis had already approved the choice of Father Mourad, who was kidnapped on 21 May 2015 by jihadists while living in the Mar Elian monastery in Qaryatayn, Syria, and held captive for five months.
Born 53 years ago in Aleppo, he entered the monastic community of Deir Mar Musa Al-Abashi, of which he is a co-founder, after seminary studies in Charfet, Lebanon, where he studied Theology and received a Licentiate in Liturgy. He made his vows in the monastery on 20 July 1993, before being ordained a priest in August of that year. From 2000 to 2015, he was Prior of the Mar Elian Monastery and parish priest of the parish of Qaryatayn.
After the kidnapping, he lived in Mar Elian’s sister monasteries of Cori (Italy) and Sulaymanyah (Iraq). Upon returning to Syria in 2020, he served as deputy superior and bursar of the Mar Elian community.
Five months in the hands of jihadists
Father Mourad recounted the story of his kidnapping in the book “A monk held hostage: A jihadist prisoner’s struggle for peace”, written together with journalist Amaury Guillem.
He considers the time he spent as a hostage of jihadist terrorists in Syria a spiritual experience. The Rosary and the teachings of Paolo Dall'Oglio, he says, gave him strength and serenity.
Of those days of violence, harassment, deprivation, psychological and physical torture, Father Jacques remembers above all the moment he was transferred to a prison near Palmyra, after the first three months of captivity in Raqqa. There, he met 250 Christians from his community. He was told that they would be taken back to Qaryatayn, that they would be subjected to a series of heavy prohibitions, but would be able to celebrate Mass again because they had not fought against Muslims.
"I understood then that those who decide not to practise violence can, by their choice, change the attitude of those who are used to bearing arms," he told Vatican News. "We were saved because of our vocation as Christians, witnesses of peace.”
Trust in interreligious dialogue and the power of prayer
For Father Mourad, “trust in dialogue is a principle, it is not linked to the attitude of others.”
"Behind the current terrorism," he explained, "there is instead a political network that uses everything to do evil. It is not a network directly inspired by Islam but precisely by a political project'. The cleric also said that Christians must "abandon this way of thinking, inspired by propaganda, according to which every Muslim is a terrorist", adding that there is "a need for more humility and clarity in our lives and in our relationship with others. We need to read the Gospel deeply in order to live it properly".
Jihadists asked him to convert to Islam by holding a knife to his throat, but from the pages of the diary of his imprisonment emerges the inner peace, energy and serenity that came from prayer.
"I can say that I received gifts from God at the very moment I was living my imprisonment," he recounted. "I cannot forget the strength, the courage, that allowed me to look these jihadists in the face and transmit the love of Jesus to them. In those situations God gave me above all the gift of a smile, and that was something that made my jailers uneasy. They wondered how it was possible for a prisoner to smile, and even I could not explain where I found the strength. As soon as I started praying the Rosary all pain, all fear disappeared".
New Archbishop of Mosul elected in Iraq
The Synod of Bishops of the Patriarchal Church of Antioch of the Syrians has also elected the new Archbishop of Mosul of the Syrians, Iraq: the Reverend Qusay Mubarak Abdullah (Younan) Hano, to whom the Pope had also given his assent.
Fr Hano entered the seminary in Baghdad, obtained a bachelor's degree in philosophy and theology at Saint-Esprit University in Lebanon, and was ordained a priest on 29 June 2011.
He was vicar of the Mar Jacob parish in Qaraqosh and with the invasion of the Nineveh Plain he took care of the displaced Syrians at the Mar Shmoni Church in Erbil. He has also been a teacher of Holy Scripture, curator of a radio programme, and representative of the Iraqi Church in the Middle East Council of Churches. Since 2019 he has been in Rome for doctoral studies in Biblical Theology.