Today we were back at the hospital visiting Rami, the young man who was kidnapped. He was very glad when we let him know that you all have been accompanying him with your prayers, and continue to pray for him. He told us the details of what he lived through during those terrible days: his various emotions and the divine assistance that never abandoned him. It was edifying to hear him, and therefore we want to share it with you all. It is not that kidnapping is unusual in Aleppo, on the contrary, with the outbreak of war, it has increasingly become a frequent scourge, and every day we hear new cases, but the circumstances surrounding the story of Rami were quite extraordinary.
On Monday morning he went to his job (selling auto parts) as he usually did, even in these times when jobs are scarce due to the war and the socio-economic crisis. It was February 11, the day of Our Lady of Lourdes, the World Day of the Sick, which coincided with the beginning of Lent (“Ash Monday” here in Syria). Being very devoted to the Blessed Virgin Mary, and being assiduous in practicing fasting, he was particularly happy that day. He had arranged with a long-time client to go to see an old car and appraise it for sale. They went to the garage, located in a Kurdish neighborhood, far from the city, and difficult to access because of the fighting. Once there were in place, a pair of gunmen showed-up, and Rami realized that they were accomplices of that client who had set a trap to kidnap him. He tried to break free by hitting one of them, but the latter fired a shot, and the bullet grazed Rami’s head. He was locked in the trunk of the car, bound and gagged. He was there for 3 hours. “All that time I did nothing but pray- Rami recounts-, I thought that my time had come. But I was prepared, the day before I had confessed in order to prepare myself for Lent.” They pulled him out from there and took him blindfolded to the 2nd floor of a building, tied him to a chair and locked him in a narrow toilet. He was there for the next 24 hours…
He begged them to tell his family, but the kidnappers said they would not do so until after 10 or 15 days, to increase the distress of his parents and thus demand a higher ransom for his life. Furthermore, they coldly told him that once they obtained the money, they would kill him: since he knew them personally, he could denounce them.
“They were the most frightening two days of my life — continued Rami — but I knew that God would not leave me. I took it as an opportunity to do reparation for my sins. ‘Jesus, Lent begins today, do you want me to thus participate in your passion? I accept it. I offer these sufferings in order to unite myself to your sufferings’. I was praying thus hour after hour, and I knew there were many doing the same for me, and that gave me strength … At times, dark thoughts overwhelmed me, ‘Why does God allow all this? Will he let me die like this? And I was tempted to despair and curse God for my lot. But I then renewed my offering: ‘For my sins, and in order to join myself to your Passion’ … “.
He breathed with difficulty because his head was covered and he was gagged. He had his hands tied behind his back by a chain. His wrists were bleeding and his arms were swollen. He wept because of the pain.
“I hoped for a miracle from God, and I knew that He would do it! Will my parents find me? Will some neighbor help me? I did not know. But I was absolutely sure that God would deliver me … I invoked the Blessed Virgin Mary over and over again with the prayer ‘Beneath they protection’ and I prayed the rosary. I knew she was with me. But above all, I felt the particular assistance of St. Michael the Archangel, and I prayed the prayer which we pray every day at the end of the Mass: ‘St. Michael the Archangel defend us in battle — and this was my battle! — Be our defense against the wickedness and snares of the Devil. May God rebuke him, we humbly pray, and do thou, O Prince of the heavenly hosts, by the power of God, thrust into hell Satan, and all the evil spirits, who prowl about the world seeking the ruin of souls’. I prayed this hundreds of times. And he gave me the strength to do what I did latter … “.
The next morning he begged the kidnappers that they tie his hands forward in order to ease the pain a little. And they agreed. He was able to see that there was natural light coming from a window that would open to the street. It was afternoon; being exhausted by the fasting, sleep deprivation, and above all, by the dire situation he was living through, he decided to take advantage of a headache, and he cried out that they should bring him some medicine to relieve his headache. The one who was guarding him, tired of hearing him, went upstairs to find something to give him. Rami seized the opportunity, and broke the shackles of the feet and of the chair, but he could not free the wrists. “I do not know how I did it, it was humanly impossible to untie the shackles without even using one’s hands that were still bound. I certainly think that a supernatural force helped me … I freed myself and ran to the balcony of the room. Once I was there, I cried out to the people who were in the street, ‘Help! I have been kidnapped ‘. But they thought that I was crazy. Hearing the screams, the man who had gone to get the medicine looked out from the balcony above, and pretending that I was just crazy, he cried out loud for those in the street to hear: ‘Relax, Rami, everything is fine, I am coming to help you’. And he began to come down. That’s when I commended myself to St. Michael, I climbed the railing and jumped off onto the street from the second floor … “.
The impact of the fall broke his hip and pelvis in 6 parts. Immediately the people who were around called for the Kurdish “police” that controls that neighborhood and they took him away. “The pain was great, but I was happy, because God had done the miracle and I was finally free. Such a fall from that height and with my hands tied could have killed me, but St. Michael protected me.” It was 1 p.m. He was detained until they were sure that his story was true and finally at 8 p.m. they contacted his family. It took his parents two hours to find the right persons who could enter that neighborhood at that time of night. Finally at 10.30 p.m. he was admitted to intensive care in hospital.
A unique story. A story of faith! Rami is an ordinary, everyday person, with his ups and downs; with his friends and social life. When he was 16, he went with his friends to a church out of curiosity and, finding it empty, he was moved to the point that he promised Christ to accompany Him every day. Since then he has been attending daily mass. He is now 35! Moreover, he goes to frequent confession and does not separate himself from the rosary, praying it more than once a day. He has suffered very great hardships at this time because of the war, and even this latest episode has not broken his faith, but has made him stronger. He continues to thank God, recognizing His fatherly hand that miraculously continues to sustain him. And in the hospital, in the midst of his terrible pain, he continues to smile.
Fathers and Sisters, Missionaries in Aleppo
Aleppo, 16th February 2013