By Oliver Maksan and John Pontifex
A PASSIONATE appeal for the release of 12 religious Sisters kidnapped in Syria has been made by a bishop from a country torn apart by violence and persecution.
Syria’s Bishop Selwanos Boutros Alnemeh of Homs and Hama said that he was “very sad” about the abduction of the Sisters from the Convent of St Tekla in Maalaoula, a largely Christian town, north of Damascus.
Speaking in an interview with Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need, Syriac Orthodox Bishop Alnemeh said that he had not heard from the Sisters since their disappearance 10 days ago but believed they are now being held in Yabrud, 12 miles from Maaloula.
The bishop said: “I demand the immediate release of the nuns, who have done no harm to anyone.
“We’ve reached the point where even nuns are being abducted. What have they done wrong? It’s a crime. The abductors want to demonstrate that they know no mercy.”
The bishop stressed the injustice of the abduction, saying the Greek Orthodox Sisters were not involved in politics.
He said: “[The Sisters] were neither on the side of the regime nor on that of the opposition. In the convent they took in war refugees without regard for their religion including Muslims.”
Pope Francis appealed on Sunday for the release of the Sisters who were abducted from their monastery on Monday, 2nd December by armed men.
At about the same time as the Pope’s message, Al Jazeera television broadcast video clips which appear to show the Sisters explaining that they had taken away for their own safety.
Bishop Alnemeh said it was unclear when the video clips were recorded or how they were made.
In another ACN interview today (Wednesday, 11th December), Damascus-based Melkite Greek Catholic Gregorios III of Antioch also appealed for the release of the Sisters, saying that they should be returned without delay to the care of Greek Orthodox Patriarch John X of Antioch.
Both Patriarch Gregorios and Bishop Alnemeh said that there was still no further news of the whereabouts of Patriarch John X’s brother, Archbishop Paul Yazigi and Archbishop John Ibrahim, both abducted in April 2013 while returning to Aleppo.
Unable to confirm or deny conflicting reports of the bishops being in Syria or Turkey, Bishop Alnemeh said: “To date it has not been possible to confirm any of the information about where they are being held.”
Nor could he comment on other reports that one of the archbishops had died in captivity.
Bishop Alnemeh stressed how Christians had been particularly affected by the conflict, stating this in his episcopal city of Homs alone, 3,000 Christians had died, a further 100,000 had been forced to flee and a number of churches had been destroyed.
Bishop Alnemeh said Syrians were tired of war.
He said: “The Syrian people no longer believe that this is revolution or reform, or the setting up of a new state on a clear foundation.”
The bishop said the people were pinning their hopes on the Geneva II peace conference due to take place in January.
Directly under the Holy See, Aid to the Church in Need supports the faithful wherever they are persecuted, oppressed or in pastoral need. ACN is a Catholic charity – helping to bring Christ to the world through prayer, information and action.
Founded in 1947 by Fr Werenfried van Straaten, whom Blessed John Paul II named “An outstanding Apostle of Charity”, the organisation is now at work in about 130 countries throughout the world.
The charity undertakes thousands of projects every year including providing transport for clergy and lay Church workers, construction of church buildings, funding for priests and nuns and help to train seminarians. Since the initiative’s launch in 1979, Aid to the Church in Need’s Child’s Bible – God Speaks to his Children has been translated into 172 languages and more than 50 million copies have been distributed all over the world.
Aid to the Church in Need UK is a registered charity in England and Wales (1097984) and Scotland (SC040748). ACN’s UK office is in Sutton, Surrey and there is a Scottish office in Motherwell, near Glasgow.
While ACN gives full permission for the media to freely make use of the charity’s press releases, please acknowledge ACN as the source of stories when using the material.
For more information, contact ACN UK Head of Press & Information John Pontifex on 020 8661 5161 or John Newton, ACN UK Press Officer, 020 8661 5167.