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Alexandre GoodarzyDuring my captivity I remembered the Ignatian retreat".

Alexandre Goodarzy was released from his kidnapping in Iraq in March 2020. That experience has led him to write a book, "Peace warrior".

Bernard García Larraín-October 5, 2022-Reading time: 4 minutes
Alexandre Goodarzy

Photo: Alexandre Goodarzy

Two years ago, French public opinion was following closely the news of the kidnapping of three members of the NGO "La Défense".SOS Chrétiens d'Orient" in Iraq. As is prudent in this type of situation, the media did not give any further information in order to facilitate negotiations and attempts to free the hostages. Two months of captivity, which for those concerned seemed like years, ended thanks to multiple diplomatic and humanitarian efforts. Alexandre Goodarzy38 years old, married and father of a child, was one of them and decided to write down his experience in a book-testimonial, Warrior of Peace ("...").Guerrier de la Paix"). 

What is your story? 

-I come from a modest family and environment, from a city of immigrants. At that time, it was one of the most dangerous cities in France. My father is Iranian and my mother is French. I had a complicated childhood and youth, violent, sometimes even ideologically extreme, like many of my friends. In addition to a certain material and social misery, my environment was characterized by a real cultural and spiritual scarcity. For a long time I felt an existential void, a lack of "verticality" and transcendence in my life. My environment, quite marked by communism, was exactly the opposite of what I was looking for: single-parent and unstable families. 

In these neighborhoods, a kind of clash of civilizations is taking place between Christianity, which is increasingly absent, and Islam, which is becoming stronger and more dynamic. The loss of identity and of the roots of the Judeo-Christian culture has created a vacuum which Islam, and in particular certain radical currents, have been able to exploit. If this clash is just beginning to be visible at a more general level in France and that is why some political movements are trying to channel these anxieties and fears, it is the daily situation of Christian communities in the East for many years. 

Did you receive a Christian education?

-My personal history is linked to Christianity because it was the religion of my home. In fact, I received the sacraments. However, my faith was not very strong and the environment did not help me either, so I was easily influenced by that environment. The turning point in my life is clear and corresponds to the encounter I had with the Bronx Franciscan community that settled in my city. They taught me that God is Love; this fundamental truth is not always easy to assimilate when life has shown you that you have to go through difficult stages.

I spent nine months living in a convent, a kind of spiritual retreat to discern my vocation and prepare myself to receive Confirmation. During that retreat, I especially felt the presence of God in a confession where I think that even the priest had prophetic words because I only understood them years later in Iraq, while I was kidnapped. Confirmation was also for me a very strong moment of faith as I considered myself a soldier of Christ. The words pronounced in that ceremony "Here I am" marked me deeply. 

In parallel, I did my university studies and became a school teacher in Angers, although I still felt that I had not fully found my way. It was in Angers that I first heard about the association "SOS Chrétiens d'Orient". 

Alexandre Goodarzy in the wreckage of a destroyed church

What is SOS Chrétiens d'Orient for you? 

-In a way, you could say that it is my vocation. It came to me unexpectedly. One day, when I was teaching geography at the school where I worked, one of the students mentioned something about some young people who were going to Syria to celebrate Christmas with the Christian communities there. That caught my attention and attracted me from the first moment. So I asked for more information about these adventurers going to Syria and got in touch with them. 

SOS Chrétien has given unity to my life, my aspirations, my faith and my inner energy. To put it simply, our objective is to try to ensure that Christians in the East can stay in their countries, it is their right. It is not a partial quest, it is a quest for the common good because Christians are, in general, a factor of peace and unity in these countries. In the West, we have been losing certain cultural and religious rites that structured our society, that gave a certain rhythm to our existence.

In the East, these rites and traditions continue to exist with the risk perhaps that they are being used only as symbols of belonging to a community, detached from the reasons for their existence. At the same time, in the East, evil is evident in the form of war and the persecutionsIn the West, evil, on the contrary, appears disguised as good, as rights, as tolerance, for example abortion or media persecution. 

More generally and historically, but no less spiritually, France has played an important role in the protection of Eastern Christians since the time of King St. Louis. This is also the framework of our work. My mission within SOS Chrétiens d'Orient is to be responsible for international development. We send many young volunteers to countries in the East where there are Christian communities. 

How was your kidnapping? 

-To know all the details you have to read my book, that's why I wrote it (laughs). We were in Baghdad with two other volunteers to do some administrative work for our association and, waiting in a street in the car, some militias approached us, put us in some vans and from there we didn't stop: changes of places and circumstances, without knowing what was going on.

The concrete details are important, but the spiritual factor is undoubtedly fundamental. I realized that at any moment we could die and I needed to go to confession. I realize the value of being able to go to this sacrament when one wants to. During those moments of captivity, I remembered the Ignatian retreat I had made and the main ideas: in his anguish, God visits man; silence imposes you to be in front of yourself, you cannot hide. God was there and that changed my life forever. 

At the end of March 2020, when the confinement was decreed and thanks to diplomatic efforts, we were released. 

The authorBernard García Larraín

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