Homs, Syria, May 22, 2015 / 15:24 pm
The Syrian Catholic Archdiocese of Homs confirmed on Friday that a priest in the diocese has been kidnapped, and has asked for prayers for the priest's safe release.
According to Fides, the Homs archdiocese "asked all the faithful to invoke the Lord in prayer so that Father Jacques is released and can return to his life of prayer, to serve his brothers and all Syrians."
Father Jacques Mourad was reportedly kidnapped at gunpoint from the Monastery of Mar Elian just outside of Al Quaryatayn, some 60 miles southeast of Homs. The exact date of the kidnapping is unclear, with reports ranging from May 18 to May 21.
Reports suggest militants may have also kidnapped Deacon Boutros Hanna in this week's assault. The Homs archdiocese has yet to confirm these reports.
"We do not yet have any news, we know only that he was taken by four men, certainly belonging to a jihadist group," Fr. Nawras Sammour of Jesuit Refugee Service told Aid to the Church in Need.
Local sources told Fides that Salafists in the area may be responsible for the kidnapping. The Sunni Islamists may have been motivated by the recent success of al-Nusra Front and the Islamic State – Al Quaryatayn is only 75 miles from Palmyra, which was seized by the Islamic State on Thursday.
Fr. Kamil Semaan, of the Syrian Catholic Patriarchate, told AFP that Fr. Mourad had refused to leave Mar Elian, even as the Islamic State threatened nearby Palmyra, saying: "As the priest and pastor, I will never leave this place so long as there are people here, unless they hunt me down."
Fr. Mourad is prior of the Mar Elian monastery. He was also pastor of a parish in Al Qaryatayn, where he served as an active mediator between the Syrian army and rebel forces, according to Fides. The monastery also provided refuge to hundreds of Syrians displaced from Al Qarytayn, and partnered with Muslim donors to provide for their needs.
Fr. Mourad's monastery is a branch of the Monastery of Saint Moses the Abyssinian, which also lost a priest to militants, in July 2013.
Fr. Mourad's kidnapping is the latest in a series of attacks on Christian religious since the start of the Syrian civil war. In 2013, militants kidnapped a group of Greek Orthodox nuns, Fr. Paolo Dall'Oglio, S.J., and the Greek and Syriac Orthodox bishops of Aleppo. The nuns were eventually returned to their convent unharmed, but Fr. Dall'Oglio and the bishops remain missing.
In 2014, Dutch priest Fr. Frans van der Lugt, S.J., was murdered in Homs. The priest served in Syria for more than four decades. He was involved in interreligious dialogue and had built as spirituality center that housed children with mental disabilities.
In February, the Islamic State kidnapped at least ninety Christians from villages in northeast Syria. Syriac Patriarch of Antioch Ignatius Joseph III Younan responded to news of the kidnappings with a plea for prayer.
"Let us pray for those innocent people," Patriach Younan told CNA in February. "It's a very…ordinary thing to have those people with such hatred toward non-Muslims that they don't respect any human life."
The Syrian civil war began in March 2011 with demonstrations against al-Assad. The war has claimed the lives of more than 220,000 people, and forced 3.9 million to become refugees. Another 8 million Syrians are believed to have been internally displaced by the violence.