A Chicago Priest in Baghdad

In a telephone interview, he describes preparing to die--and being comforted by Iraqi children

It was Rev. Jerry Zawada's turn to stay awake. It was 4:30 a.m. and he was standing in the lobby of the Al Daar Hotel in Bagdad, talking to me on the phone, during a lull in the bombings.

The 65-year-old Franciscan Catholic priest from Chicago is one of seven American and Canadian Christians staying in Baghdad as human shields. The others were elsewhere in the hotel, taking turns trying to sleep.

The Rev. Jerry Zawada in Iraq
Jerry Zawada
in Iraq

The priest was awake but utterly exhausted. "I haven't slept for more than a half-hour the last four or five nights," he said. "I'm sure a lot of it is tension."

We spoke during a lull in the bombing, when it was possible to get a phone line to Baghdad. Even so, the connection was scratchy, and often we couldn't hear each other clearly. About six hours before, Zawada said, the bombing was intense, nearby--and scary. For more than a half-hour, they felt the building rattling and took "shelter" in the ground floor of the Al-Daar, whose windows are boarded.


While the bombs fell, they prayed. "We're praying for safety for us and for all the people here," he said. "The people are the victims, especially the children. It's incredible how much the children have suffered."

Across town, Cliff Kindy and Peggy Gish were camped out in tents near what is called Medical City, a complex of eight hospitals. I had assumed that staying in tents outside was risky, but Zawada said that, actually, the folks in tents are safer than those in the hotel because the hospital almost certainly won't be bombed. However, the same can't be said for the hotel.

Still, did any of them they expect they might die when they came to Baghdad?

Zawada didn't hesitate. "Yes, that was the understanding we had," he said.

Zawada-who is part of an anti-war called

Voices in the Wilderness
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Deborah Caldwell
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