(The Root) — 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, Boston-area leaders say Louis has stood out in his community.
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 told The Root. "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 on a tour group visiting the Holy Land as thousands do each year. According to the Associated Press, 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. On Monday Abu-Masuh said he freed them after officials promised that they would work on releasing his uncle from prison.
Forry, a Boston Democrat who is in her seventh year in the Massachusetts Legislature and is well-respected in the Dorchester community, 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. She is the only Haitian American currently serving elective office in that state, she 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," Louis 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."
Details of the group's return to the U.S. have not been announced, and Louis and his family have declined The Root's interview requests. But family and friends have told other news outlets that they are excited about the release and anxiously await the arrival of Louis, his wife and the other travelers.
"At the moment, there is a lot of joy. I'm exuberant," Jean Louis, son of Michel Louis, told Boston.com. "I have no words to express it. We believe in God. And let me tell you, He did not let us down."
Denise Stewart is a freelance writer in Alabama.