He came to this 1,600-year-old monastery 18 years before Saddam Hussein took power and has lived through military coups, droughts, two wars and now an American invasion. So when strangers arrived today saying Baghdad had fallen, the placid face of Father Paulus, a blind 71-year-old monk, betrayed little emotion.
"I am happy if the peace will be settled," he said, showing the cageyness of an Iraqi who has survived decades of authoritarian rule. "God willing, the peace will happen."
Today, Iraqi fighters withdrew from strategic Maqlub Mountain here north of Mosul. A few hours later, Kurdish fighters and American Special Forces soldiers rolled through the front gate of the monastery and declared it liberated. The monastery is named for a fifth-century monk, who is said to have lived in a cave on this mountain, and what is believed to be his body is watched over by monks here.
"God is here, Muhammad is here," he said. "We are protected."
Muhammad who? That Muhammad?
The frail, white-bearded Father Paul is a member of Iraq's Assyrian Christian minority, a group that makes up less than 4 percent of the country's population. For decades, Mr. Hussein's government favored Sunni Muslims, who account for only 20 percent of inhabitants, while suppressing Shiite Muslims, Kurds and Christians. What comes now is anyone's guess.