“Despite kidnappings we do not yield to hatred “

Fr Jihad Youssef comes from community of Mar Musa, founded by Italian Jesuit Paolo Dall’Oglio.The monastery lies in Syria, 50 km from the territories that are now occupied by Islamic State. As many readers know, Father Paolo was abducted in July 2013 and since then  there has been no news of him.

The monks and nuns of Mar Musa are Eastern rite and under the jurisdiction of the Diocese of Homs.  The community is always committed to dialogue with Islam. Today, for obvious reasons, the monks devote themselves much more to humanitarian relief. Another foundation of this community in Syria is the monastery of Mar Elian, from which Father Jacques Murad  was kidnapped by last May.

In a recent interview with Aid to the Church in Need in Ticino, Italy, Fr Youssef said:

“We are very afraid, but we can overcome this in an  intelligent way. We’re not trying to be heroes, we are ready to leave the monastery if Islamic State were to arrive. If we were to be kidnapped, I say clearly, this will not happen because we challenged someone. Our mission is to be a sign of hope and dialogue. “

Father Youssef is there any news of Father Paul and Father Jacques?

Fr Jacques recently came back but we do not know anything about Fr Paul.

We know that the group that was abducted with Fr Jacques is well.  None of them was killed or suffered violence but they cannot leave the village where they are being kept or even communicate with the outside. Islamic State has established a court that judges Christians on the basis of certain parameters which determine whether they are allowed to live or if they are put to death.

We therefore hope that something positive will happen. To be accurate, Islamic State is not just against Christians: in Syria they have killed more Muslims than Christians. So the persecution of Christians is the result of the ideology of IS that indiscriminately affects everyone, Christians and Muslims, and not for the faith they profess.

What is the current mission of Mar Musa?

Our mission of dialogue with Islam will not be reduced.  However, we must try other methods. We continue with a commitment to prayer, we continue to foster personal relationships with many Muslim friends and we are dedicated to humanitarian aid.

What kind of support needed by the population?

In 2013 and in early 2014, our region looked like a battlefield –  there were many houses destroyed especially in the Christian quarter because of its geographical location. We restored 63 houses damaged by the battle in a few months. We were supported by some European Catholic organizations, particularly “Aid to the Church in Need”. Thanks to this early intervention, the Christians of Nebek did not have to leave the city. In the same period we have responded to urgent requests for aid by distributing blankets and medicines. After this first intervention we attended to other needs in the population: certain type of batteries for electricity, diesel for heating (the city is 1300 meters above sea level).

Another aid initiative is aimed at widows or single women, mainly Muslim, with children to raise. Many have husbands in prison or kidnapped. We have also created job opportunities for those who remain, because we need to ensure people have a minimum income that allows them to to live in dignity. Besides this, we need to continue teaching the catechism and encourage people to pray.

What do you think of Syrians fleeing to the West?

Most people want to get out of Syria, although there are also a number of people that cannot bring themselves to flee, especially those who have no prospect of a decent life abroad. The latest wave of Syrian refugees is made up of the middle class. The poor do not know where to go and do not have the money to leave the country. The international political community has to change direction if it wants to resolve this situation.

Cristina Vonzun.