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Boston congregation prays for pastor's release in Egypt

July 15, 2012|By Matt Pearce
  • Church members in Boston pray for the return of the Rev. Michel Louis, who was kidnapped in Egypt.
Church members in Boston pray for the return of the Rev. Michel Louis, who… (Bizuayehu Tesfaye / Associated…)

A Boston congregation is praying for the safe return of its pastor after he was kidnapped in Egypt with an American woman and a translator.

The Boston Globe said 70 parishioners gathered at the Eglise de Dieu de la Pentecote in the Mattapan neighborhood to pray for the safe return of the Rev. Michel Louis and his companions. Louis, 61, founded the church 33 years ago and is active Mattapan's Haitian community.

“He is a very important person in the community,” Fritz Jocelyn, a church member, told the Globe. “Not just the Haitian community, but the American and Latino communities also.”

Abductions in the Sinai Peninsula, the land stretching between the Suez Canal and Israel, are common but rarely dangerous. In recent years, Bedouin tribe members, typically known for their hospitality, have captured Egyptian soldiers, Chinese cement factory workers, Brazilian tourists and Fijian peacekeepers, often to request the release of fellow tribesmen held by Egyptian authorities on terrorism or drug trafficking charges. Abductees are typically released unharmed.

Louis and Lisa Alphonse, 39, of Everett, Mass., were taken from a bus headed to Mt. Sinai, where God is said to have issued Moses the Ten Commandments.

Their abductor, Jirmy Abu-Masuh, has given media interviews to demand the release of his uncle in exchange for the Americans’ safety. Egyptian police told CNN that the uncle had been caught with half a ton of drugs; Abu-Masuh told the Associated Press that his uncle was jailed for refusing to pay a bribe.

Louis’ wife was on the bus and saw the abduction, according to her son, Jean Louis. A couple of cars pulled up and took Alphonse, a translator and Louis, who is diabetic and who apparently left his medication on the bus.

“She says that everything happened at once; it was all of a sudden,” Jean Louis told CNN on Sunday. “Even right now it seems like a dream to her, a nightmare.”

Bedouin sheiks who have been mediating the negotiations told CNN that Alphonse, Louis and the translator and tour guide, Haytham Ragab, 28, “are unharmed and well-fed.”

Abu-Masuh told the Associated Press that Egypt’s prime minister called him to request the release of the Americans, and also that his imprisoned uncle — who also has diabetes — had requested their release, fearing retribution from the police.

Abu-Masuh hasn’t always been consistent in what he’s said. He told the Associated Press that he treated his hostages as guests at his home, serving them tea and a ceremonial lamb dinner, as per Bedouin custom.

Yet he told Daily News Egypt, an Egyptian daily newspaper, that he might hurt the abductees. “Whatever happens to my uncle, something worse will be done to them,” he said, describing tough conditions with scorpions and snakes.

But Sinai activist Ahmed Abu Thira’ told Daily News Egypt that Abu-Masuh was lying. “They are in good condition in a home, where there are beds,” Abu Thira’ said. “He is just saying this to scare people; this is his plans. There are neither scorpions nor snakes.”

Jean Louis said the family was nervous because of the demands for a prisoner release and because negotiations had stretched on for so long.

"Usually there’s a window of 24 hours or 48 hours that ... certain negotiations are resolved, and because they’re not asking for money, this makes it a little more complicated, and a lot of answers to our questions cannot be answered," Jean Louis told CNN. "But again, we are faithful people. We have a lot of people praying for our father and the people with him, and we’re staying resolved in our faith.”

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