Syrian Bishop:"I demand the immediate release of the abducted nuns"

Oliver Maksan, Aid to the Church in Need, Wednesday 18 December 2013
FOLLOWING the abduction of the nuns from Maalula the Syriac Orthodox Metropolitan of Homs and Hama, Selwanos Boutros Alnemeh (pictured right), called on all to put pressure on the abductors. "I demand the immediate release of the nuns, who have done no harm to anyone," the Bishop declared on Monday to the Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need. "We've now 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."
Twelve Greek Orthodox sisters from the Convent of Saint Thekla of Maalula to the north of Damascus were captured last week by supposedly Islamist fighters after the Christian town had been conquered by opposition troops. "I am very sad that they have been abducted. There is no communication with them. According to information I have, they are probably being held in Yabrud, which is 20 kilometres from Maalula. The television channel Al Jazeera broadcast video recordings of the sisters at the end of last week. In these they made statements that they had been removed for their own safety. We don't know how recent the recordings are and how the sisters are now."
The Bishop stressed that the nuns had been completely apolitical and had dedicated themselves exclusively to prayer and charity works. "They were neither on the side of the regime nor on that of the opposition. In the Convent they took in war refugees without regard to their religion, including Muslims."
Bishop Alnemeh was not able to say anything about the whereabouts of the Syrian Archbishops abducted in April. "To date it has not been possible to confirm any of the information about where there are being held." There were, for instance, rumours that only one of them was still alive. His location was sometimes given as Syria and sometimes as Turkey. "We simply don't know," the Bishop explained. His fellow Syriac Orthodox Metropolitan Mar Gregorius Yohanna Ibrahim and the Greek Orthodox Metropolitan Paul Yazigi were the ones abducted.
Bishop Alnemeh appealed to all states and international organisations to commit themselves to bringing about an end to the war in Syria. "The Syrian people no longer believe that this is revolution or reform, or the setting up of a new state on a clear foundation," according to Bishop Alnemeh. Nevertheless they were pinning their hopes on the peace conference Geneva 2 scheduled for January.
Christians had been particularly affected by the conflict. In his episcopal city of Homs alone 100,000 Christians had fled, churches had been destroyed and almost three thousand Christians had lost their lives.

Communications Office, Thursday 5 December

AT THE conclusion of his weekly General Audience, Pope Francis led the faithful gathered in prayer for several nuns who were recently kidnapped in Syria.
On Monday, Islamist rebels invaded the St Thecla Greek Orthodox Convent in Maaloula, located near Damascus. They are reported to have abducted twelve nuns of the convent.
Archbishop Mario Zenari, Apostolic Nuncio to Damascus, spoke to AsiaNews, saying that the whereabouts of the nuns are still unknown. “We can confirm that the nuns were forced to leave the monastery and follow these armed people,” he said.
Before leading the pilgrims gathered in St Peter’s Square in praying the Hail Mary, the Holy Father appealed for the safety of the nuns and those suffering from the conflict in Syria.
I would now like to invite you all to pray for the nuns of the Greek-Orthodox Monastery of St Thecla in Maaloula, in Syria, who were forcibly taken by armed men two days ago,” he said. “Let us pray for these nuns, these sisters and for all people who have been kidnapped as a result of the ongoing conflict. Let us continue to pray and work together for peace. Let us now entrust ourselves to Our Lady.”
Contributed by

Mother Superior and nuns held hostage in Syria
Wednesday 4 December

ISLAMIST rebels have broken into St Thecla Orthodox Convent, Maaloula near Damascus and are holding Mother Superior Pelagia Sayyaf and a number of nuns hostage, according to local sources.
The Syrian Arab News Agency is reporting that the rebel militias also committed acts of vandalism in the town's neighbourhoods and around the convent, attacking locals and targeting them with sniper fire.
Details are sketchy, but some reports coming via government sources claim the terrorists are destroying the convent having overwhelmed the guards who were protecting it.
Reports say the girls from the orphanage and the younger nuns under the age of 60 were relocated to a safer location before the latest outbreak of violence. The Mother Superior and the older nuns chose to stay and their whereabouts are not certain.
Syria’s Relief and Social Affairs Minister, Kinda al-Shammat, voiced concern over the reports and called on the international community to take action for the release of those held hostage.
Fighting has intensified between government forces and rebel militias in recent weeks. The National Observatory for Human Rights in Syria, a London-based organisation close to anti-Assad forces, confirmed that the rebels have taken control of Maaloula, but did not mention that the nuns in the convent have been taken hostage.
In September, the Al-Nusra Front, a jihadist rebel group, invaded Maaloula and attacked Christian homes and churches. Around 40 nuns and orphaned children of St Thecla's were held in the convent at that time.
Maaloula, with a population of 3,000, is one of the last places where Aramaic, Jesus’ native- tongue spoke, is still used.

Adapted from an original story by

Photos of St Thecla Convent courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.