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Abducted Boston pastor returns to joyous church

Abducted Boston pastor returns to joyous church
(Photo: KC Bailey)

Friends of the recently released Rev. Louis say his valor, faith in Egypt was no surprise

Flanked by Harvard Law School Professor Charles Ogletree (R) and Rev. Eugene Rivers (L), the recently freed Rev. Michel Louis celebrated his release at Jubilee Church after being held three days by an Egyptian kidnapper. (KC Bailey photo)

The image of the Rev. Michel Louis, a Boston clergyman who asked the abductor in Egypt’s Sinai to take him captive instead of a female fellow traveler, has been shown around the world since the international incident began unfolding over the weekend.

But long before the graying, 61-year-old pastor made a valiant stand on foreign soil, Louis stood out in his community, Boston-area leaders say.

Recently, the pastor, who immigrated to the United States from Haiti as a young man, worked with the Haitian reunification program, Massachusetts State Rep. Linda Dorcena Forry said. “He helps get the word out to his parishioners and to the community. He makes announcements at church. He makes sure that people get the paperwork they need,” so that family members in Haiti can come to America to be with relatives.

When Forry first learned that Louis had been taken, along with Lissa Alphonse and a translator, Haytham Ragab, she said she was shocked.

“This was the fourth time he had been over there,” Forry said. She was not aware of any incidents on previous trips. “It’s a blessing that he and the others have been released and that his health is fine.”

Louis and Alphonse were with a tour group visiting the Holy Land as thousands do each year. According to published reports, the tour bus was heading from Cairo to the sixth-century St. Catherine’s Monastery — located at the foot of Mount Sinai and said to be the site where Moses received the stone tablets with the Ten Commandments — when Jirmy Abu-Masuh, an Egyptian Bedouin, got on the bus and took Louis, Alphonse and Ragab.

Abu-Masuh demanded the release of his uncle, who he said had been incarcerated for failing to pay a bribe to Egyptian police. Louis’ wife, who was also on the trip, told family members that Louis asked Abu-Masuh to take him captive instead of Alphonse.

Last Monday, Abu-Masuh said he freed them after officials promised that they would work on releasing his uncle from prison.

Louis is a diabetic. It is believed that at the time of his capture last Friday, he did not have the medicine he needed.

Forry, a Boston Democrat who is in her seventh year in the Massachusetts Legislature, said she met Louis about four years ago. An estimated 70,000 Haitians live in Massachusetts and in the Boston area, with many residing in Dorchester, Forry said.

Massachusetts has the third-highest number of Haitian residents in America, trailing only Florida and New York.

Boston Councilman Charles Yancy represents part of the Dorchester community that includes the Eglise de Dieu de le Pentecote Libre, where Louis is pastor.

Louis, Yancy said, is a quiet man who often keeps a low profile. “But his commitment to the people and to Jesus Christ is not a question,” Yancey said. “He has a great following and sensitivity for the people.”

Like many throughout the Boston area, Yancy said that he prayed over the weekend for Louis, Alphonse and Ragab. Yancy said he was not surprised to learn that Louis had asked the abductor to take him instead of a woman.

“In our eyes, he is a hero,” Yancy said. “We haven’t put together any plans, but I am sure he’ll get a hero’s welcome when he returns.”

And that he did.

Jubilee Christian Church in Mattapan was filled to capacity last night with a rapturous, dignitary-filled crowd that gathered to welcome home the heroic pastor. U.S. Sen. Scott Brown was among an estimated 1,500 people who came out to celebrate Louis’ homecoming.

“At the moment, there is a lot of joy. I’m exuberant,” Jean Louis, son of Michel Louis, told reporters at Logan airport. “I have no words to express it. We believe in God. And let me tell you, He did not let us down.”

Rev. Louis said in published reports that he was never worried he would be killed. “I just sat quietly and looked at them because I knew God wasn’t going to let me down,” he said.

This article first appeared in the Root.