Jerusalem (AsiaNews) – Fr Dhiya Aziz was kidnapped on 23 December. Born in Iraq, the member of the Franciscan order served as pastor in Yacoubieh (Syria). Fr Pierbattista Pizzaballa, Custos of the Holy Land, spoke to AsiaNews about his disappearance.
“We realise that someone took him,” the clergyman said, “but we cannot say who did it or even if he is still alive. If we knew who abducted him, at least we would have confirmation, but until now, we do not know even that. We have tried some contacts, but there is not much more to say,” he added, cautious about not jeopardising the outcome.
Father Aziz was born in Mosul, the ancient Nineveh, in Iraq, on 10 January 1974. After studying at the city’s Medical Institute, he embraced religious life.
After his novitiate at Ain Karem, he made his first profession of religious vows on 1 April 2002. A year later, he moved to Egypt, where he remained for many years.
In 2010, he came back to the Custody, which sent him to Amman. Subsequently, he was transferred to Syria, in Latakiyah.
On his initiative, he decided to help the community of Yacoubieh, in the Orontes, Jisr al-Shughur District (Idlib province), a particularly dangerous place since it fell under the control of Jaish al-Fatah.
A Jihadi group captured him in July of this year but he was able to get away. At first, the al-Nusra Front, a branch of al-Qaeda in Syria, was suspected. However, the movement denied any involvement. In all likelihood, another jihadi group took him hoping for a large ransom.
However, this time the situation appears to be different. "We know where he was taken,” said Fr Pizzaballa. “It is an area of heavy fighting, on the border between government- and rebel-held territories.”
“Many groups are active in that area,” he explained, “affiliated with various factions and without coordination among themselves, each on its own, so it is difficult to understand who did it."
For now, the Custos of the Holy Land is placing his hopes in prayer to "have some information, that they (the kidnapers) might let us know."
“This is the first time that we find ourselves in such an odd situation," the priest said. In the past, when Franciscans or others were abducted, "we always found a point of contact. This time, nothing! It is a very different situation than in July."
Noting that Pope Francis proclaimed this as a Jubilee Year, Fr Pizzaballa said that the region "is in dire need of mercy."
"It is clear to anyone who knows the region that it will be impossible to escape from such spiral of hatred, resentment, and revenge unless we have the courage to move on, forgive and be merciful. Otherwise, it is a vicious circle that will get worse."
Since the start of the Syrian conflict, militia groups and Jihadi fighters have abducted several prominent Christian leaders, including two bishops, Greek Orthodox Metropolitan Boulos Yazigi and Syriac Orthodox Metropolitan Mar Gregorios Youhanna (taken on 22 April 2013), and Fr Jacques Mourad, a Syriac Catholic who has been held by the Islamic State group (Daesh) for the past five months. (DS)