There is great concern in Syria following the kidnapping of dozens of Christians by the terror group Islamic State.
“We do not know what ‘Islamic State’ intends to do with the hostages,” Father Jihad Youssef, a member of a Syrian-Catholic religious order, told the Catholic pastoral charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) on Sunday.
The Syrian town of Al Qaryatayn near Homs was captured by the terror militia “Islamic State” (ISIS) on Thursday of last week. The terrorists took large numbers of Christians and Muslims as hostages. “Does ISIS intend to negotiate and let the people go free, or does it intend to kill them? We don’t know. Normally they give Christians three options. Either they pay the Jizya, the capitation tax, or they convert to Islam, or they must leave the place. The latter option was evidently not offered, or the Christians would have left,” says Father Jihad.
Father Jihad further explained that it is unclear how many Christians are in the hands of ISIS. “Reports that it could be around 160 persons sound realistic. This is approximately the number of Christians who had remained in Al Qaryatayn until the last. But we do not know if all of the remaining Christians were taken as hostages by ISIS, or if some went into hiding. At the end of the week, some 30 Christians succeeded in fleeing from the town. Some are shepherds and they know the region. They fled to Homs,” said Father Jihad. The Syrian-Orthodox and Syrian-Catholic Bishops of Homs are currently seeking to resolve the problem through contact persons, according to Father Jihad.
Father Jihad belongs to the Catholic religious community of Mar Musa, which has a monastery in Al Qaryatayn. “We still have some lay people there who are working for us. One of them recently informed us via Whatsapp that they are well, and that ISIS has not yet occupied our monastery of Mar Elian. But now we no longer have any contact with the place at all, not even by telephone. So we do not know if our monastery has now been occupied by ISIS or not, and what has happened to our workers and the hostages.”
At the end of May, one of Father Jihad’s brothers, Father Jacques Mourad, was kidnapped in Al Qaryatayn together with Deacon Boutros. “We have absolutely no information about Father Jacques’ condition, or where he is,” says Father Jihad. “We have tried everything. I do not know how the latest events in Al Qaryatayn will affect our brothers’ situation. If a solution can be found for all of the hostages, perhaps Father Jacques and Deacon Boutros will be included.” Father Jacques, according to Father Jihad, was kidnapped because he had made an effort to promote dialogue and coexistence between Christians and Muslims. “For many years he built bridges between the religions. This has now proved its value in the war.” In the monastery of Mar Elian, Father Jacques worked actively for people suffering from the consequences of the war in Syria. He attached special importance to renovation projects, so that people could return to live in their former homes that had been destroyed. But psychological support for people in wartime and other forms of emergency humanitarian aid were also important to him. ACN has been supporting Father Jacques’ work for years.
Father Jihad then added that there is great concern in Syria following the kidnappings. “Especially the Christians in places near to Al Qarytayn are anxious. Many people are thinking of leaving their homes, or even leaving the country. The fear is growing.”
At the same time, Father Jihad thanked the charity ACN for its support. “ACN has done so much for us, especially in Al Qaryatayn. We thank the benefactors with all our heart. In particular, I now call on you to pray for our kidnapped brothers and the hostages of Al Qaryatayn. May God bring a change into the hearts of the kidnappers, so that they show mercy to the hostages.”
The charity ACN is particularly active in the Middle East. More than twelve million euros have been spent since the end of 2011 in assistance to the Christians in Syria and Iraq. Recently, ACN has set aside more than two million euros for humanitarian aid in Syria.
Aid to the Church in Need is an international Catholic charity under the guidance of the Holy See, providing assistance to the suffering and persecuted Church in more than 140 countries. www.churchinneed.org (USA); www.acnuk.org (UK); www.aidtochurch.org (AUS); www.acnireland.org (IRL); www.acn-aed-ca.org (CAN)