Terrorists in Syria have kidnapped a Franciscan parish priest, and despite some feeling there is hope for his release, many question why he was taken in the first place.
According to Fides, Franciscan Iraqi priest Dhiya Azziz, parish priest of the Syrian village of Yacoubieh in the Idlib province, was taken away on July 4th by militiamen of jihadist organizations that control the region.
Father Dhiya Azziz voluntarily chose to go to serve the Latin parish two years ago, in a district which, for a long time, was in the hands of jihadist groups. Over time, other Christian communities’ priests and religious left the area. Yet, two parishes entrusted to the Franciscans which continued to provide pastoral care for local communities–now reduced to a few hundred faithful–remained open.
The priest’s situation, the source explains, remains marked by uncertainty because while members of the parish community and confreres of the Franciscan Custody of the Holy Land are concerned, some still see hope.
The total lack of information about why he was taken away, a statement released by the custody notes, is puzzling.
However, the statement also explains that the militiamen said they had to take the priest to a short meeting with the Emir who exercises authority in the region, currently subjected to the rule of Al-Nusra Front, the Syrian arm of al-Qaida. Later on, however, two militants were sent to the parish to get the friar’s medication; he suffers from diabetes and other health problems.
This detail, local sources stressed, is a good sign because it seems to indicate that Dhiya is alive.
Last October, Franciscan Hanna Jallouf, Pastor of the Church of St. Joseph, in the nearby village of Knayeh, had been taken along with some parishioners by jihadists of al-Nusra Front. Within a few days, he and his parishioners were released.
Observers note that Father Dhiya always tried to keep out of the political and military issues related to the Syrian conflict and was known for his efforts to help Muslim refugees who arrived in Christian villages.