Release Father Aziz now

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Charity head pleads on behalf of yet another priest abducted in Syria
“It is as though…fanatical groups want to cut off the heads of the Christian communities to kill the body – the Church. They should know that this will not work.” – Neville Kyrke-Smith
By John Pontifex and Clare Creegan

THE UK head of a Catholic charity for persecuted Christians has called for prayers for the release of yet another priest kidnapped in Syria.
Franciscan priest Father Diyaa Aziz was abducted from the mainly Christian village of Yaacobiya, in the north-western Syrian province of Idlib by the Al-Nusra Front, an Islamist terror group linked to al-Qaeda.
Kidnapped on Saturday (4th July), 40-year-old Fr Aziz is the latest priest to be captured in a list which includes Archbishops Boulos Yazigi and Youhanna Ibrahim of Aleppo, Jesuit priest Father Paolo Dall’Oglio, fellow Franciscan Father Hanna Jallouf and Father Jacques Mourad, who was taken only last month.
Describing the latest kidnapping as part of a “contagion of evil”, Neville Kyrke-Smith, National Director of Aid to the Church in Need (UK) stated: “We plead for prayers and mercy – for young Fr Aziz, for Fr Jacques Mourad and all the priests and bishops who have been kidnapped and for their people.
“It is as though Daesh (IS) and other fanatical groups want to cut off the heads of the Christian communities to kill the body – the Church – and they should know that this will not work.”
Mr Kyrke-Smith, who in May visited ACN emergency relief and pastoral aid projects in Kurdish northern Iraq, stated: “The faith is strong and Christians want to be part of the future in their and our historical homeland.”
“Having been in northern Iraq recently and knowing the terror that Christian communities and others face in great parts of Syria and Iraq, the people need the support, solidarity and resolve of the West to stand up to this contagion of evil.”
Father Diyaa Aziz was abducted from the predominantly Christian village of Yaacobiya in the countryside of the city of Jisr al-Shughour where he acted as parish priest for the Latin community of Latin and Orthodox Armenians.
Rami Abdel Rahman, the director of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, said that Fr Aziz was summoned for a meeting from his place of residence in the monastery by the prince of the Al-Nusra Front, an organisation with connections to al-Qaeda, but did not return.
The abduction of Father Aziz is the latest in a string of abductions which begun in April 2013 when Aleppo prelates Greek Orthodox Archbishop Bolous Yazigi and Syriac Orthodox Archbishop Youhanna Ibrahim were abducted not far from the city in north-west Syria.
Three months later came the kidnapping of Father Paolo Dall’Oglio, from the monastery of Deir Mar Musa, 50 miles north of the Syrian capital, Damascus.
The following year, another Franciscan priest, Fr Hanna Jallouf, was abducted along with 20 people from his parish in Qunaya, a neighboring village of Yacubiyeh.
Father Jacques Mourad and a companion were targeted by armed, masked men in May 2015.
The fate of most of almost all the priests remains unknown.
In October 2012, Greek Orthodox Father Fadi Haddad, a parish priest Qatana, 12 miles south-west of Damascus was kidnapped and his body was later discovered badly disfigured on a roadside near the capital.
In April 2014, Dutch Jesuit priest Father Frans van der Lugt, who had lived and worked in Syria for 40 years, was killed in Homs where he ministered to Christians and others trapped in a war zone.
Mr Kyrke-Smith said: “If anybody wishes to rebuild the Middle East we need the leaders of different communities to be respected and allowed to work with all people.”
Since the outbreak of the Syrian war, Syria has become a priority country for Aid to the Church in Need projects – providing food, medicine, shelter and pastoral support.

Editor’s Notes
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 St John Paul II named “An outstanding Apostle of Charity”, the organisation is now at work in more than 140 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 176 languages and more than 51 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.
For more information, contact John Newton, ACN Press Officer, 020 8661 5167 or Clare Creegan, Digital Media and Press Officer on 020 8661 5175.