Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Shunned by Catholics, gay hostage finds United Church audience

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James Loney can't really say what kind of a symbol, or symbols, he's become, nor is he really all that comfortable becoming a national public figure. But if it must be, then he will take the attention people give him, and use the opportunity to promote peace.

"It's a very surprising situation to find myself in, the centre of this kind of attention and controversy," the peace activist said this afternoon on the steps of Augustine United Church, moments before he quietly delivered a spellbinding address to a rapt audience.

"If there's a gift in this, because of what I experienced, there's an interest in the message that I would like to give. It's the same message as before the kidnapping — it's a gift and responsibility that I'm still trying to sort out," said Loney.

The kidnapping occurred Nov. 26, 2005, in Baghdad, where Canadian Loney and three other members of the Christian Peacemaker Team were kidnapped and held for 118 days. One of his friends, American Tom Fox, was murdered.

Loney would have been even more imperiled during his captivity, had it become known that he is gay and in a permanent relationship.

But if that were not enough for any private person to have to handle, Loney had been coming to Winnipeg this weekend to address a Catholic conference — only to be 'uninvited' by Winnipeg Archbishop James Weisgerber over reported differences between Loney's personal life, his public statements, and Catholic doctrine.

"I haven't had any further contact with the archdiocese," Loney said.

He told the audience at Augustine United that when he was in captivity, he realized that his kidnappers saw themselves as just and righteous in their cause. One had had seven relatives, including four children, killed at an American checkpoint, two others lost family in the assault on Fallujah.

"Our kidnappers saw themselves as the good guys," Loney said.

The kidnappers would watch action films, seeing themselves as the reluctant heroes fighting an evil nemesis, believing themselves forced into a choice to live and die by the sword, Loney said.

"One of the ways we die by the sword, is that violence soils our humanity," he said.

Loney said that time passes very slowly in a kidnap situation, both for the captives, and for the captors.

One kidnapper "would go to the market and get the latest pirated video. Sort of, movie night with the captors. We actually had popcorn one night," Loney said.

It was very strange to watch the captors watching Transporter 2, and see them cheering for the hero who was taking on kidnappers, Loney said.

"They liked to watch the same films the (American) soldiers liked to watch," and both the kidnappers and American soldiers saw themselves in the same heroic characters on screen, Loney said.

His experience “has made me go deeper into my commitment to non-violence,” said Loney, who is writing a book about his time in Iraq.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition October 28, 2007 $sourceSection$sourcePage

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