Abducted Iraqi priest released after a month of torture and threats

A Chaldean-rite Catholic priest who works in a parish in one of Baghdad's most dangerous neighbourhoods has been freed from 27 days of captivity in which he was tortured after "a small sum" was paid for his release.

Fr Saad Sirop Hanna, who was freed Monday evening, "was threatened and tortured", an Iraqi priest told AsiaNews. "He is really tired and exhausted. ... He'll be able to talk about his painful and fearful experiences later."

Fr Hanna was preparing to leave for Rome when he was kidnapped. He was coming to receive his university diploma after he obtained his theology degree three years ago at the Pontifical Urbaniana University.

"He is free and now is doing well. This is the only thing that counts," said Chaldean Patriarch Emmanuel II Delly.

In expressing his joy for the "good news" the patriarch thanked "all those who worked to get Father Hanna released".

"I am so happy to be safe," Fr Hanna told the British branch of the charity Aid to the Church in Need.

Fr Hanna said the prayers for his release had united a divided Iraq, and that the prayers had been a miracle for him.

"From the moment I was kidnapped, I felt God was with me. I began to say: 'God, you are my protector. You will be with me in my pain,'" he told the charity, which supports poor and persecuted churches.

Fr Hanna said he feels no hatred toward his abductors.

"I pray for them; I am continuing to pray for them," he said.

The 34-year-old priest was kidnapped on 15 August in Baghdad just after celebrating Mass at St Jacob's parish in Dora, Baghdad, for the feast of the Assumption.

Masked kidnappers forced Fr Hanna to stop his car, then took him away, according to a Catholic News Service report.

A vast campaign was organised to free the priest. In addition to appeals by Patriarch Delly himself and the Chaldean bishops, Pope Benedict XVI joined the chorus of voices demanding Fr Hanna's release.

According to Catholic News Service, Fr Hanna immediately telephoned his relatives to alert them that he was alive and had been liberated by his abductors the evening of 11 September.

There was no news as to what led the kidnappers to release the priest after holding him for nearly a month.

Priest abducted in Baghdad threatened and tortured (AsiaNews, 13/9/06)
Kidnappers release Iraqi priest after nearly a month in captivity (Catholic News Service, 13/9/06)

LINKS (not necessarily endorsed by Church Resources)
Aid to the Church in Need
The Chaldean Church - Christians in Iraq (on Byzantines.net)

Official highlights bleak outlook for Iraq (CathNews, 27/2/06)
Bishops see US 'at a crossroads in Iraq' (CathNews 16/1/06)
British cardinal prays for Iraq peacemaker hostages (CathNews 13/12/05)
Priests say Iraqi Christians now victims of extortion (CathNews 8/11/05)

14 Sep 2006