June 21 – An invitation to pray for the safe return of Father Mourad and the Syrian people
Montreal/Rome, Wednesday June 16, 2015 – “From the bottom of our hearts we thank the benefactors of Aid to the Church in Need for the solidarity they have shown towards the suffering Syrian people and to those in our region in particular. And we beg you to continue praying for us.”
This was one of the last messages sent to ACN by Father Jacques Mourad, the Catholic priest who was abducted in Qaryatayn in Syria on the 21st of May this year. The pontifical foundation, ACN, had been supporting the work of this priest and monk since 2004, and especially since the beginning of the Syrian crisis in 2011.
Now – on 21 June, exactly one month from the day he was abducted – ACN is inviting all people to pray for Father Mourad, and for the entire Syrian population. The 21 national offices of ACN are launching a combined international media campaign, via the news media and social media, using the hashtag: #PrayingForFatherMourad.
The monastic community in Deir Mar Musa, the monastery founded in Syria, to the north of Damascus, by the Italian priest Father Paolo Dall’Oglio, has welcomed this initiative of ACN with joy. “Your prayers are so important,” Father Jihad Youssef told ACN, “not only for the Christians of Syria but also for the many, many Muslims who are in fact the first victims of fundamentalism. In terms of sheer numbers, they are the ones who are suffering most, at the hands of their own coreligionists.”
Father Youssef, also a monk in Deir Mar Musa, recalled how in the area of Qaryatayn Father Jacques had become a point of reference not only for Christians but also for the Islamic community in the area. “He was greatly respected, even by the imams and sheiks,” he told ACN. “In the monastery of Mar Elias, where he lived, he took in more than 50 Muslim families, with over 100 children.” Father Jacques also helped these families to rebuild their own ruined homes and gave them food and medicines support of ACN.
The head of the Middle East department of Aid to the Church in Need, Father Andrzej Halemba, commented: “Father Jacques always helped all people, be they Christians or Muslims. He helped everyone, but never took sides. Why should such a man be abducted? We can see once again how the war is claiming the best people. Father Jacques is a spiritual leader of Christians and Muslims. People of both religions look up to him and trust him.”
As Father Mourad himself had earlier written to ACN, “Our work on behalf of the Muslims is a simple expression of the Church, which is called to help all people – whether the poor, the sick, criminals, sinners or the persecuted.”
Also kidnapped along with Father Mourad was a lay co-worker, Boutros Hanna Dekermenjian, an Armenian Christian, aged 38, who had attempted to prevent his abduction. As Father Youssef has confirmed to ACN, there is no news at present, either as to the fate of the two hostages or as to the identity of their abductors. Father Youssef, in inviting us all to unite together in prayer, sees the current situation of the Christians in the Middle East as “a true trial of faith. If we truly love the crucified Christ, then we will be willing to offer ourselves for others.”