"The world must be against these extremists who commit violence and are a threat to everyone. Muslims and Christians must show a strong condemnation. A unity of purpose with Islam and the Arab world is essential."
The words of Gregorios III Laham, Greek-Melkite Patriarch of Antioch, commenting on the kidnapping of Franciscan Friar Jallouf Hanna, 52, and a score of faithful Christians. The abductions occurred on the night of 5 and 6 October in the Syrian village of al-Nusra Knayeh, in the valley of the Orontes, in the north of the country, near the border with Turkey.
According to sources in the local Christian community, Father Hanna was kidnapped along with his parishioners after recently visiting an Islamic court, where he had gone to report how sisters in the local convent had suffered harassment and abuse by Islamist militants, driven out by areas in Damascus controlled by the government. In recent times, expropriations and looting in the area have intensified, and the religious community has been targeted, L’Osservatore Romano reports.
The armed groups had seized the olive harvest and had started to invade the same building that houses the convent. At that point, the Franciscan parish priest went to the Islamic court in order to denounce the harassment. A few days later, militants were sent to the area, seizing him and his parishioners.
The Custody of the Holy Land has explained that, fortunately, the nuns in the convent managed to escape and have found refuge. The Franciscans have extended an invitation to pray for the priest, pastor of the local community, for his faithful and "all the other victims of this tragic and senseless war."
Fides News Agency reports that Father Hanna was able, with difficulty, to maintain channels of contact with the militia groups to ensure the activities of the parish could continue. Every five or six months he was also allowed to go out from the area controlled by the rebels - the last time, less than two months ago to undergo surgery in Lebanon - and then he had always returned and resumed his pastoral mission.
The local school remained open, despite having to submit to the rules imposed by the new Islamist regime.
According to one of Father Hanna’s confreres, the friars don’t know what to do. “There are many groups and armed gangs acting independently, without supervision,” he told Fides. “There is not a single point of contact. This increases the confusion. We are waiting for someone to turn up. And we pray that our friends will soon be released".