The late Servite Father Lawrence Martin Jenco, a native of Joliet, Illinois, was taken hostage in Beirut by five armed men in January 1985, while serving as director of Catholic Relief Services there. He held for 564 days before being released and allowed to return to the United States. He died in Illinois, of cancer, in 1996.
In his book, Bound to Forgive, Fr. Jenco relives his kidnapping and imprisonment, and offers portraits of the Shiite Muslims who held him captive. He also discusses how his faith sustained him. He spent much of his time in prayer and meditation, making a rosary out of threads from a sack, and celebrated clandestine Masses whenever he could. At times he was imprisoned with other hostages (see: Terry Anderson) who worshiped together as "The Church of the Locked Door".
He spent much of his time chained and blindfolded, and was allowed to use the toilet only once a day. Fr Jenco suffered serious eye infections and other health problems as a result of his captivity. In changing from one hiding place to another, he was bound with tape and placed in stifling hiding places in trucks, lest he be found by soldiers or police inspecting a vehicle. He also suffered beatings by the guards.
After his death, federal judge Royce Lamberth awarded the estate and family of Rev. Lawrence Jenco $314.6 million in damages from Iran for the 18 months he was held hostage in Lebanon in the mid-1980s. The ruling includes $14.6 million in compensatory damages to Jenco and his six siblings or their estates and $300 million in punitive damages. Jenco "was treated little better than a caged animal" said Lamberth in his ruling, which laid the blame upon the Iranian government. The Iranian government defaulted on the lawsuit, declining to answer any of the allegations. Victims of foreign terrorism are allowed by law to collect court judgments from the U.S. government.
Toward the end of his captivity, Jenco was asked by one of his guards if he forgave his captors. Fr Jenco tells in his book that at that moment he realised that he was being called to forgive, to "let go of revenge, retaliation and vindictiveness"
The Father Lawrence Jenco Foundation was created by fellow hostage and friend Terry Anderson after his death. It seeks to support people doing faith-based charitable work in Appalachia.