Magazine article The Christian Century

While Held Hostage, Priest Remained Pastor

Magazine article The Christian Century

While Held Hostage, Priest Remained Pastor

Article excerpt

"If someone had told me yesterday that I would be home by nightfall, I wouldn't have believed them," said Juan Julio Wicht Rossel, a Jesuit priest and one of the 72 people held by guerrillas in Lima, speaking after the dramatic raid on April 22 by the Peruvian armed forces and police to free the hostages. The hostages had been held in the Japanese ambassador's residence since December 17, when 14 guerrillas belonging to the Tupac Amaru Revolutionary Movement (MRTA) invaded the building during a diplomatic reception, initially taking more than 500 people hostage. All 14 guerrillas and two members of the armed forces died in the surprise rescue operation. One of the hostages died of a heart attack, and a third soldier died several days later.

The 65-year-old priest first drew public attention when he was chosen by the MRTA commando to be one of 225 hostages released on December 22. Wicht stood up and asked if he could stay with the remaining 71 hostages, earning their applause and, later, even the admiration of the guerrillas. "April 18th was my birthday. At ten in the morning I was summoned downstairs," Wicht said at a press conference in Lima April 23. "Nestor Cerpa Cartolini [the leader of the hostage-takers] was standing there, surrounded by his people. `Despite our differences, we want to greet you for your birthday and to tell you that we respect your decision to remain,' Cerpa said."

During the four-month ordeal, Father Wicht prayed with the hostages, heard confessions and held several religious services. While the captors did not avail themselves of the sacrament of confession, they did ask for rosaries and religious tracts, Wicht said. He added that "aside from the intolerable abuse of taking away our freedom, they did not physically or verbally abuse us." Speaking of his decision to remain with the hostages, he said: "How was I prepared for this? …

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