The Italian priest who had for 30 years made his home and clerical reputation in Syria was depositing her at Ataturk International Airport, in Istanbul, when he forgot the spiritual form their physical leave-taking always took: prayer. Father Paolo would place his crucifix on Kabawat’s head and chin, and then they would ask the divine to guide them in their daily struggles. Perhaps he was in haste to get her onto her return flight to her hometown of Toronto, but the rite this time slipped his mind. So Kabawat, an Orthodox Christian, reminded the gray-bearded Jesuit and hero of the Syrian people of the valedictory benediction. Father Paolo lovingly obliged. That was three years ago.
The priest was snatched by ISIS not long thereafter while walking through the streets of the caliphate’s capital of Raqqa. He had smuggled himself back into Syria after being kicked out by Bashar al-Assad, Kabawat says, to try and negotiate the release of captive journalists, and was convinced he could reason with the jihadists.
Kabawat is a natural-born worrier, and Father Paolo used to call her “Martha,” after the sister described in the Gospel of Luke as “cumbered about many things” whom Jesus visits at her home. Unlike her attentive sibling Mary, Martha neglects the savior’s counsel. But now the roles were somewhat reversed, and the emissary of Christ was the one who wouldn’t listen.
One needn’t have been especially preoccupied or put-upon to fear an audience with ISIS. “This was 2013—we didn’t really know who they were. But still I told him, ‘Don’t do it face to face.’ He said, ‘No, no, no. If, after three days, you don’t hear from me, then something bad will have happened.’”
Something bad did.
The echo here with the resurrection may have been intentional, though it’s hard to associate Father Paolo with the megalomania of one comparing himself to his avowed role model. On this score, Kabawat is definitive: “He was always telling me, ‘Hind, we can’t be sitting and lecturing others. We need to go to the people. Because this is freedom and democracy, from the people to the people. This is exactly what Jesus wants and what Jesus did. He did not sit in his home.’” [Continue reading…]