Muslim community leaders in Syria have condemned the kidnapping of Catholic priest Father Jacques Mourad and are seeking to establish contact with his abductors – but they say the people who seized him are “foreign to the social, ethnic and religious fabric of the area” and establishing any contact will be difficult.
Fr Mourad was snatched by armed men on 21 May near the village of Al-Qaryatayn, where he lived in the monastery of St Elias. He was well known and liked for his friendship and work in the local community, in an area where a large majority are Sunni Muslims.
A Fides source, said: “the timeliness of the fall of Palmyra, a nearby town, and the kidnapping of Fr Mourad, which occurred soon after, suggest a link with the Islamic state. If this were confirmed, it would not be a promising sign: the local Islamic authorities have no influence on the IS. The circulating hypothesis is that some inhabitants of the area, for pure sectarian hatred, took him and then sold him to the Islamic State.”
Father Mourad lived in the village of Al-Qaryatayn, near Homs, for more than 10 years. Since 1991 he had helped to recover the remains of the ancient monastery of St Elias, where he had settled. Now the monastery is closed. The priest, from the same monastic community as Father Paolo Dall’Oglio, (who was kidnapped in 2013) animated the local Syrian Catholic parish, with about 300 faithful, promoted many initiatives at an ecumenical and interreligious level, and built good relations between all the different ethnic and religious groups.
Over the past two years, with the outbreak of the war, the sectarian propaganda deepened and jihadi groups began to disparage and despise non-Muslims.
“Father Jacques lived a constant commitment to dialogue, prayer, reconciliation. He promoted solidarity among families of different religions, he was an example of humanitarian service without religious or ethnic labels. His life was an example to defuse sectarianism”, said the source’
The hopes for his release “come only from the local community, the Islamic authorities, from people of good will. But it will be difficult, as there are no bridges with the IS, since this is an entity with no ties with the community in the territory,” he said.