Rome/Königstein, 22.05.2015. It is less than two years since the abduction of Father Paolo Dall’Oglio, who was kidnapped in Raqqa on 29 July 2013 – and now the same horror has once again struck the monastic community of the Deir Mar Musa monastery, some 50 miles (80 km) north of Damascus. Yesterday, another of its monks, Father Jacques Mourad was abducted in Qaryatayn – a small town in central Syria around 65 miles (100 km) from Palmyra – where for the past 12 years he had been ministering to the local Syro-Catholic community, while living in the monastery of Mar Elias. The last contact between Father Mourad and the Deir Mar Musa community was around midday yesterday.
“We still have no news of him. We only know that he was abducted by four men, undoubtedly belonging to a jihadist group”, Father Nawras Sammour, the director of the Jesuit Refugee Service for the Middle East, told ACN. Father Mourad was travelling with a co-worker when two motorcycles drew up alongside his car. His kidnappers seized the vehicle, abducting the Jesuit priest at the same time.
Speaking on the telephone to ACN from Damascus, Father Sammour recalled his last meeting with Father Jacques around two months ago. “He was extremely concerned about the presence of the fundamentalists in Qaryatayn”, he told ACN. Yet although conscious of the imminent danger, he did not want to leave his Catholic faithful or the many refugees whom he was sheltering and supporting in his monastery. Indeed, in the past he had even negotiated with the Al Nusra Front to secure the release of hostages. “When I asked him if he was intending to leave, he told me that he would do so only if forced; otherwise he would remain with his people”, Father Sammour added.
In the last few days Father Jacques had also welcomed many refugees from Palmyra, the city now in the hands of the Islamic State. “He has always helped the Syrians and has welcomed a great many Muslims into the monastery of Mar Elias”, the Jesuit continued. The abduction of this priest is interpreted by many as a sign of the intention of Isis to capture the city of Homs. The same fear was expressed by Father Jacques himself, just a few days before he was abducted.
In addition to the abduction of Father Dall’Oglio and the two bishops in Aleppo, Yohanna Ibrahim and Bulos Yazigi, Father Sammour also recalled the killings of Father François Mourad, who was assassinated in Ghassanieh on 23 June 2013, and of Father Frans Van Der Lugt, was shot dead in Homs in April of last year. “We priests are fully aware of the risks we run, but we cannot do otherwise than remain alongside the Syrian people, both Christians and Muslims. In many cases we are the only ones they have to turn to.”
Marta Petrosillo, firstname.lastname@example.org