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Priest’s family thankful he's safe; Man expected home this week following ordeal in Greece


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Virgil Kappas and his daughter Nadia Charcap sit in their Franklin home Monday evening.  Nadia used social media and a telephone to start the search for her brother. PHOTO BY JOSHUA MARSHALL
Virgil Kappas and his daughter Nadia Charcap sit in their Franklin home Monday evening. Nadia used social media and a telephone to start the search for her brother. PHOTO BY JOSHUA MARSHALL


The series of phone calls woke the Kappes family from a fitful night of sleep.

Rest had been a rare luxury in the Franklin home of Virgil Kappes. He and his wife, Jenny Johnson-Kappes, had spent the past week fearful for their son’s life.

Christiaan Kappes, a priest, had called frantically from Greece on Oct. 1. He was in danger and needed to flee the country, he said.

That was the last time the family heard from their son until the early morning call Monday.

“My wife started screaming, and he’s telling us that he’s OK,” Virgil Kappes said. “We were very, very happy. I said, ‘I love you,’ and asked him, ‘Haven’t you been watching the news?’”

All that is left now for the family of Christiaan Kappes is to wait for him to come home. The priest told his family that he had escaped from Greece and was working to get home.

 

The Kappes family could not reveal where Christiaan Kappes had found refuge, for fear that his life still would be in danger. But they expect him to catch a plane back to Indianapolis sometime this week.

“As soon as I heard his voice, I said, ‘God, thank you.’ I went out across the street to the flagpole and the flag and prayed for about a half-hour,” Virgil Kappes said. “Thank you for bringing my only son home. Thank you for all of the help.”

Christiaan Kappes, 36, had been living in Greece for the past three years. He was studying at the University of Athens, after being assigned by the Vatican to study the Greek Orthodox Church and work on his doctorate. Before leaving for Greece, he was a priest with the Archdiocese of Indianapolis.

In addition to his time in Greece, Christiaan Kappes had lived in Mexico and Italy as part of his ministry. So when he called Sept. 29 concerned about his safety, his family knew this was not anxiety about living in a foreign country or being unfamiliar with his surroundings.

The root of his fears stemmed from an issue his Greek translator and friend, Ioanna Lekakou, was having with her family, Virgil Kappes said.

Christiaan Kappes told his family that if they didn’t hear from him in the next 12 to 24 hours, then he was dead.

“This was not a culture shock. This was a total abnormal reaction to a very stressful stimuli,” said Franklin resident Nadia Charcap, Christiaan Kappes’ sister.

Christiaan Kappes and Lekakou were seen Oct. 1 in Athens but had not boarded a plane to leave as expected. That was the last time anyone had any contact with them until early Monday, Virgil Kappes said.

The U.S. Embassy in Athens spoke with Christiaan Kappes Oct. 1 as well but could not give immediate refuge to Lekakou, because she was a Greek citizen and the immigration process would take time. Lekakou also had unsuccessfully gone to the police in Athens to find protection.

When he fled from Greece, Christiaan Kappes destroyed his cellphone, thinking that he could have been tracked by it, Virgil Kappes said.

The last the family heard, Christiaan Kappes was going to try to board a plane home and arrive in Indiana on Oct. 3. When he didn’t show up, and the airline reported he had never used the $1,600 ticket he had purchased, the family became panicked.

Contacting the U.S. consulate and the Athens police department was fruitless. Neither believed Christiaan Kappes was in danger.

The hardest part was getting people to believe their story, Charcap said.

“We really felt like they weren’t taking the dangers seriously. For the person emotionally attached, it is the worst feeling ever,” Charcap said. “You don’t know how to express or explain all of the different emotions you’re going through.”

Charcap became the point person for efforts. She and her family  took the chain of events they had pieced together to the local TV stations and newspapers, sharing their story and begging for any news of Christiaan Kappes.

A Facebook page, Find Fr. Kappes, was set up to share updates and gather any tips from people on where he might be and if anyone had seen him.

Charcap made repeated calls to the consulate, the police, newspapers in Athens and the FBI. Because of the time difference, Charcap often was awake most of the night talking to people in Greece then throughout the day dealing with sources in the U.S.

“Anybody who is going to have a family member under extreme duress who you think is going to die, you will do anything in your power to help them. It doesn’t matter if I’m being annoying or repetitious,” she said.

The story started attracting attention at the end of last week as more TV stations aired it and the family offered a $10,000 reward for his safe return.

A newspaper in Athens started asking questions of the local police. The FBI became more involved and interviewed the family Saturday.

A cleric with the Muslim community in Plainfield who had connections in Turkey offered to orchestrate a safe haven for Christiaan Kappes. The family never was able to take advantage of it, since he already had escaped by the time they spoke with him.

When he called Monday morning, Christiaan Kappes apologized to his father for scaring the family.

“He said, ‘Dad, I think I lost my sanity there for a second.’ Because he’s trying to get help, and no one’s helping him, he was going crazy,” Virgil Kappes said.

Virgil Kappes helped buy plane tickets to Indiana for both Christiaan Kappes and Lekakou using his credit card. The family still is unclear how he reached sanctuary outside Greece and who took him and Lekakou in.

But finding that out can wait, now that they know he’s OK.

“The only thing we care about is he’s safe; he’s coming home, and we’re not going to discuss details until he’s sitting here in this spot,” Virgil Kappes said.

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