Brendan O'Shaughnessy | February 27, 2018
The young Iraqi priest had nearly drowned while swimming across the Tigris River to escape his abductors. Retaken, a brutal punishment was certain. First he was whipped with a cable until he lost consciousness. Then beaten with canes and sticks. And finally the questions, each accompanied by another blow. They promised to finish with his death.
His captors wanted to know how Father Saad Sirop Hanna had escaped, and they suspected that the only guard who had been moderately kind to him had helped him get away.
“I had endured for myself, for my beliefs, for my God, and for my religion,” Hanna writes in his book, “Abducted in Iraq,” recently published by Notre Dame Press. “This man would not die because of my actions.”
Hanna told his abductors that he had escaped unaided, that the guard was innocent — and one of them, a fellow Muslim. They again demanded Hanna’s conversion.
“You are the ones who need to understand something,” Hanna said, the blood dripping from his back and shoulders. “I will not become a Muslim, and I fully know that you are going to kill me for it.”
Specifically targeted because he was a Chaldean Catholic priest, Hanna suffered 28 harrowing days of captivity in 2006 at the hands of a militant group associated with al Qaeda. More than a decade later, his firsthand account vividly illustrates the ideal of loving your enemy. He was prepared to sacrifice his life to save one of his captors, and he refused to hate any of them. Hanna says his faith not only got him through the ordeal, but today helps him inspire hope in the face of evil.
Hanna, now the Apostolic Visitor for Chaldeans Residing in Europe and the auxiliary bishop of the Chaldean Patriarchate of Baghdad, launched his book at the Notre Dame London Global Gateway in December. He had planned to come to Notre Dame as a visiting scholar with the Medieval Institute last fall, but the U.S. Embassy denied him a visa without an explanation.