Abducted priest freed

Released after two weeks of captivity in Syria, Iraqi priest, Father Dhiya Aziz, is safe and recovering, according to fellow Franciscans in Aleppo.

The priest, who was released late yesterday (Monday, January 4), is reported to have suffered extreme cold while he was being held and when freed was in a state of severe exhaustion. No other details have emerged about his condition.

During a trip in Aleppo in May 2015, an ACN delegation saw the devastation of churches. The war in Syria is going on its 5th year these next days. (Credit: ACN-Melikte Archdiocese of Aleppo)
During a trip in May 2015, an ACN delegation saw the devastation in Aleppo. The war in Syria is going on its 5th year these next days. (Credit: ACN-Melikte Archdiocese of Aleppo)

Speaking to Aid to the Church in Need yesterday (Tuesday), Fr Aziz’s fellow Franciscans in Aleppo, northern Syria, said they had yet to establish if he had been tortured but that the priority now was sleep and rest.

Fr Aziz’s disappearance was announced after he failed to return to his parish in Syria’s Idlib province on December 23. The priest had set off from the Syrian city of Lattakia, aiming to arrive at his parish before Christmas. He was returning from a visit to Turkey where he was visiting family who had fled from Qaraqosh, northern Iraq, seized by militant Islamic group Daesh (ISIS) in August 2014.

Aid to the Church in Need Middle East projects coordinator Father Andrzej Halemba said that Fr Aziz was now recovering at an undisclosed location. “The Franciscans told me that in this Year of Mercy they were giving thanks to |God for showing his mercy through the release of Fr Aziz. “We are just so grateful to God that Fr Aziz has been freed.”

Fr Halemba said the identity of Fr Aziz’s kidnappers was as yet unknown and that “it is not quite clear yet what Fr Aziz’s state of health is. He explained that Fr Aziz has a pre-existing back condition dating back to an earlier kidnapping in July and a planned operation on his spine will now be rescheduled.

Latest in a series of abductions

The Custody of the Holy Land, the region’s Franciscan authority, announced Fr Aziz’s release late last night but added that, “due to confidentiality reasons,” no further details could be given about how he came to be freed. The kidnapping of the priest is the latest in a series of clergy kidnapped in Syria. Previously, on July 4, 2015, Father Aziz had been seized by militants in Yacoubieh and released after five days. Among those still missing are Archbishops Boulos Yazigi and Yohanna Ibrahim of Aleppo, kidnapped in April 2013 and Jesuit priest Father Paolo Dall’Oglio, abducted three months later.

By John Pontifex, ACN International

Adapted by Amanda Bridget Griffin, ACN Canada : ag@acn-aed-ca.org

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