This morning, two Catholic priests from Homs told me of the abduction of the Rev. Dhiya Azziz. He is a member of the Custody of the Holy Land, an apostolate of the Franciscans charged with the care of Catholics in the Holy Land since the visit of St. Francis to the region in the Middle Ages. The kidnapping took place on Saturday 4 July, while he was in his parish of Yacubiyeh, a village in Syria’s Idlib province, more than 56 miles northeast of Latakia.
The Franciscans are asking for prayers, and released this communique yesterday:
“Some militants of an unknown armed brigade, perhaps connected with Jahbat al-Nusra, came to take him away for a brief interview with the Emir of the place. From that moment we do not have any more news and we are unable to trace his where abouts at the present moment…We are doing everything possible to locate the place of his detention and secure his release. We entrust him to the prayers of all.”
The whole area is under the control of different Islamic armed brigades, including Jabhat al-Nusra — which is affiliated with al Qaeda and is considered the most powerful and predominant force. They also mentioned that another Franciscan priest, the Rev. Francois Murad, was abducted and killed in the same region in June 2013.
Father Dhiya’s kidnapping is the latest in a series of attacks on Christian religious since the start of the Syrian civil war in 2011.
In 2013, militants kidnapped the Rev. Paolo Dall’Oglio, S.J., in Raqqa, a group of Greek Orthodox nuns in Qalamoun to the west of Homs, and the Greek and Syriac Orthodox bishops of Aleppo. The nuns were eventually returned to their convent unharmed, but Father Paolo and the bishops remain missing.
In 2014, a Dutch priest the Rev. 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 a spirituality center that housed children with mental disabilities.
The same year, another Franciscan priest, the Rev. Hanna Jallouf, was kidnapped together with as many as 20 people from his parish in Qunaya, a neighboring village of Yacubiyeh — the two are less than a mile apart.
In February, the Islamic State kidnapped at least 90 Christians from villages in northeast Syria.
And in May, the Rev. Jacques Mourad was kidnapped at gunpoint from a monastery southeast of Homs.