Jerusalem (AsiaNews) - "Fr. Franҫois Mourad's killing of is a sad occurrence and a blow to all the friars of the Custody of the Holy Land," said Fr Pizzaballa, Custos of the Holy Land, as he spoke with AsiaNews about the Syrian clergyman who died on Sunday in al-Ghassaniyah, a predominantly Christian village in Jisr al-Shughur District, Idlib province. His funeral was celebrated yesterday in the small village of Kanaieh, a few kilometres from where he was killed.
Until yesterday, there were two versions of the murder, the first spoke about a stray bullet, the second of an actual attack carried out by Islamist insurgents against the Monastery of St Anthony in al-Ghassaniyah.
"The second is the most reliable version," Fr Pizzaballa said. "From the photos and the testimony of our religious, the rebels attacked the village in past few weeks, forcing most residents to flee."
The Monastery of St Anthony was the only safe haven, where Fr Franҫois lived along with some Franciscan friars, four nuns and ten lay Christians. But on Sunday, rebels part of a fringe extremist Islamic group, stormed that place too."
According to the Custos of the Holy Land, Islamists broke into the convent, looted it and destroyed everything. When Fr Franҫois tried to defend the nuns and other people, the gunmen shot him dead.
"Right now, the village is completely deserted," Fr Pizzaballa said. "Rebels have moved there with their families and occupied the houses still standing."
"Let us pray that this absurd and shameful war ends soon and that the people of Syria can get back to a normal life soon," he said.
Hailing from a village in the province of Latakia in northwestern Syria, Fr Franҫois Mourad, 49, was trained by the Franciscan Fathers in the Holy Land.
Feeling called to a more contemplative life at the end of the 90s, he left the Franciscans to complete his studies with the Trappists of Latrun (Palestine).
Once back in Syria, he was ordained priest by the Syriac Catholic bishop of Al-Hasakah on the Syrian side of the Al-Jazira region.
In recent years, he launched a new monastic foundation, inspired by Saint Simon and founded a small monastery of contemplative life in Hwar, Aleppo province, devoting himself to the training of some young postulants, all Syrians.
He was in Hwar until this year when fighting between Islamic rebels and regime forced him to take refuge in al-Ghassaniyah, on the Orontes River, guest of the local Franciscan monastery.
Until his death, he worked together with the friars to bring relief to the Christian and Muslim residents of the area. (S.C.)