In 1985, Fr. Lawrence Jenco, a Servite priest from Illinois and the director of Catholic Relief Services in Lebanon, was taken hostage in Beirut by a Shiite group called Islamic Holy War. He would spend 564 days in captivity before his release and return to the United States.
Days of unrelenting boredom—often blindfolded, locked in a closet, or handcuffed to a radiator—were interspersed with bursts of terror. During transport from one hiding place to another he was bound in tape from head to toe or wrapped with explosives. He endured beatings and several times expected execution.
Nevertheless, he sustained himself with prayer, reciting a homemade rosary, or celebrating a clandestine Mass—sometimes in the company of fellow American hostages. The night before he was released, one of the guards asked him if he could forgive his captors. Jenco realized his faith was being put to the test. While he would not forget his treatment, he chose the way of forgiveness in place of vindictiveness.
After his release, Jenco remained remarkably free of bitterness, sharing a message of peace and reconciliation. (He was more disturbed to learn that his freedom had been purchased by the sale of arms to Iran.) He served as a campus minister at the University of Southern California and died of cancer on July 19, 1996.
“God, give me a new heart and a new spirit. You have asked me to love unconditionally. May I forgive as you have asked me to forgive, unconditionally. Then you will be my God and I will be your son.”
—A prayer by Fr. Lawrence Jenco, composed the night of his release.