“Could you hold this for a moment?” Fr Douglas Bazi thrust a plastic bag into my hand. We were at Westminster Cathedral at the Aid to the Church in Need Conference. Surreptitious inspection revealed some unimpressive, dirty, stained fabric.
I know Fr Douglas from Ankawa and supporters of the Foundation will recognise his face. He is the Parish Priest of Mar Elias, guardian and ‘mother-in-law’ to the 10000 families who arrived in Erbil in Auguast 2014. He has a wicked chuckle and a theatrical way of rolling his eyes. “I thought I spoke English well,” he joked before the conference, “But then I went to Scotland.” He was on fine form, despite a punishing schedule that also included America, Chile and Brazil. His new mission makes him a busy man.
Harrowingly, the rag in the bag was the shirt he was wearing when he was kidnapped by Al Qaeda. The audience in the hall was silent as he related how he was held for seven days, denied water, tortured and had his teeth smashed by a hammer to the sounds of a TV channel reading loudly from the Quran. The stains on the shirt were his blood.
“But of course I forgive them, and love them.” These words are almost unbelievable. And yet Fr Douglas lives them daily as he continues to care for others. He lives them as he works day after day, despite having been twice a victim of car bombs, shot in the leg while preaching and forced to watch his church being blown up. While he was kidnapped, he would use the links of his handcuffs to say his Rosary and dispense marriage advice during the day, to the same men who returned to torture him at night. And yet he continues to live for others.
Fr Douglas has a simple message for us in the wider Church. He asks for prayers and he asks for support.
He works to ensure that Christianity has a place to survive in Iraq. “ISIS have broken up our communities, but made us a stronger community. ISIS has destroyed our churches but made us a stronger Church.”
He reminds us of an ancient truth of the Christian faith: “The church is strongest when persecuted. They persecute us, because they fear the truth that we teach.”
There is no one who seems more without fear, no one who seems stronger than Fr Douglas: this ordinary parish priest in Ankawa. In no one is the Church teaching of love, not violence, lived more fully: his love for his people, his love of the Church, his love of Christ – but above all, his love for his enemies.