Born in Iraq, Father Aziz volunteered to serve in danger zone
Another Catholic priest has apparently been kidnapped in Syria.
The Custody of the Holy Land, the Franciscan Church body that oversees sacred Catholic sites throughout the Middle East, reports that it lost contact with Father Dhiya Aziz, who is a parish priest in Yacoubieh in Idlib Province.
“Some militants of an unknown armed brigade, perhaps connected with Jahbat al-Nusra [the al-Nusra Front], came to take him away for a brief interview with the Emir of the place” late on the afternoon of July 4, the Custody said in a communique. “From that moment we do not have any more news and we are unable to trace his whereabouts at the present moment. We are doing everything possible to locate the place of his detention and secure his release. We entrust him to the prayers of all."
The Greek Melkite Archbishop of Aleppo, Jean-Clement Jeanbart, confirmed the news in an email to Aleteia.
"Unfortunately this abduction happened," Archbishop Jeanbart wrote. "Let us hope that we will be able to liberate Father Aziz soon. We need to pray that [he] may be safe."
The archbishop, whose city has been under constant attack by both government and rebel forces, added that the "peaceful Christian village" of Yacoubieh was "already entirely abducted two years ago; many people left the place and the remaining inhabitants are living very hard times under the Islamic Regime (Emirate)."
"The whole area is under the control of different Islamic armed brigades, among whom Jabhat al Nusra, which is affiliated with al Qaeda, is considered the most powerful and predominant force," said Michel Constantin, Beirut-based regional director of the Catholic Near East Welfare Association.
Fides news service said that two militants returned to the parish to get medication Father Aziz needed for his diabetes and other health problems. Local sources welcomed that as a sign that Father Aziz was still alive.
The Franciscan Custody said that although Yacoubieh had become particularly dangerous in recent years since it fell under the control of Jahbat al-Nusra, Father Aziz had volunteered to serve there. Fides said that he tried to stay out of the political and military issues related to the Syrian conflict but focused on serving parishioners and helping Muslim refugees who arrived in the area’s Christian villages.
Father Aziz was born in Mosul in 1974. He studied medicine there before entering religious life, the Custody says. He served in Egypt from 2003 to 2010, when he was sent to Amman and later Lattakia, Syria.
Last October, the al-Nusra Front abducted another Franciscan, Father Hanna Jallouf, pastor of the Church of St. Joseph in the nearby village of Knayeh, along with several parishioners. But all of them were released within a few days.
The whereabouts of several other priests and bishops, including Bishops Boulos Yazigi and Gregorios Yohanna Ibrahim, and Fathers Paolo Dall’Oglio and Jacques Mourad, are still unknown.
In June 2013, another Franciscan from the region where Father Aziz worked, Father Francois Murad, was abducted and killed. In 2014, a Dutch Jesuit who served in Syria for more than 40 years, Father Frans van der Lugt, was murdered in Homs.
In February, the Islamic State kidnapped at least 90 Christians from villages in northeast Syria. Many are still missing.