A Syriac Catholic monk and a church volunteer were abducted by masked militants from a monastery in Homs province on Friday, May 22.
Fr. Jack Murad and Boutros Hanna, a church volunteer, were taken from the Mar Elian Monastery in Al Qaryatayn at mid-day on Friday, May 22.
A statement was issued by Patriarch Ignatius Ephrem Joseph III Younan, patriarch of Antioch and all the East of the Syrians for the Syriac Catholic Church in this regard. It stated: “With great sadness and pain, we received the news of the kidnapping of Fr. Jack Murad.”
The statement added:"Father Jack did his best to serve his parishioners and township regardless of their religion or affiliation even at the most critical circumstances, where he opened the doors of Mar Elian Monastery wide to meet humanitarian needs and provide a safe haven for the fleeing people.”
The statement called on parishioners, bishops, priests and deacons, nuns and the believers, to "celebrate Masses, fast, pray, and supplicate for the safe release of Fr.Jack."
It was reported that two masked men approached the monastery and took the men away in a car.
Murad, who is about 40, is the president of Mar Elian Monastery. The monastery has been used as a refuge for those fleeing Palmyra, where the Islamic State militants have declared control this week.
Meanwhile, Mgr. Mario Zenari, apostolic nuncio to Syria, said that nothing is known about the fate of Fr. Murad. He added: A young man “who heard noises and went to see what was happening was also taken away, in a car, with the clergyman.”
“Who did it? Islamic extremists, terrorists, the Islamic State, common criminals, the Al-Nusra Front: take your pick. It is anyone’s guess,” he explained.
“Still, we know that several groups could be involved, which are often at loggerheads with each other. Hence, it is difficult to deal with the issue, because we do not know who to talk to. Anything is possible and we have no clue.”
“Lest we forget,” he added, “two bishops and four priests have disappeared in the past four years. But the total number of the missing is 20,000. Out of 220,000 people who have died so far, four are priests.”
"I think the Archeparchy of Homs, the patriarch and the community of Mar Musa have activated all channels to make contact with the kidnappers, but without success so far,” Mgr. Zenari said.
“He was taken from the monastery two days ago, on Thursday, at about 2:00pm. He was the target; they came for him. The place is 140km northeast of Damascus, on the road to Palmyra. That is where the monastery is located.”
"I'm truly sorry for Fr. Murad’s abduction,” the nuncio said. “I know him very well. He is an excellent priest from the Syrian Catholic Eparchy of Homs and a monk at Mar Musa, the same community as that Fr. Paolo Dall’Oglio".
"It is hard to find words to describe the situation in the country,” the prelate said. “We must fight against pessimism and remain confident.”
“In Damascus, the situation varies,” he added. “Some neighbourhoods are quiet, but at five kilometres from here the tragedy of the Palestinian refugee camp, with 15,000 people under siege, continues."
Unconfirmed reports indicate that Deacon Boutros Hanna was abducted along with Fr. Murad.