Damascus (AsiaNews) - "Fr Franҫois Mourad was a man of faith, who chose to build from scratch the Monastery of St Simeon Stylites, despite the difficulties of the war, challenging Islamic extremists. Unfortunately, his attempt failed, but his life was fulfilled through the most extreme sacrifice: giving his life for Jesus and for the people who were with him," a Syrian Franciscan friar told AsiaNews, anonymous for security reasons.
"In past years, Fr Franҫois Mourad repeatedly put his life on the line in Syria pushing for the construction of the monastery," the priest said.
"Initially, he bought some land near Aleppo with the help of some local families, but was chased away by Islamic extremists. So he decided to fall back on Al-Ghassaniyah, where he built a small hermitage a few kilometres from the village with the help of some young Syrians."
"His work had just started," the monk explained, "when Islamist troops put the area under siege. He eventually found himself alone as his postulants fled because of the war, witnessing helplessly the destruction and looting of the monastery and nearby villages."
"Fr Franҫois Mourad had the opportunity to go away, to take shelter in a safer area, but decided to stay in order to serve his people, willing to help the local parish priest and the nuns of the Franciscan Monastery of St Anthony in the village of Al-Ghassaniyah, which had an infirmary; the only clinic in the area and a point of reference for many Christian and Muslim families."
"Here Fr Franҫois replaced the parish priest whenever he was traveling to other convents, giving comfort to families housed in the convent and the nuns too."
On the day of Fr Francois's death, the parish priest was out. When armed Islamists came, the Franciscan friar was alone in the convent with the nuns and some lay Christians. A few more hours and two priests would have been killed. "
According to the monk, Fr Franҫois did not even have time to argue with the gunmen bent on plundering the convent. As soon as he stood in front of them, they shot him dead on the spot.
"We found out what happened from a Rosary sister who reached our convent in tears and told us about the tragedy."
"Right now, we know that there are still six people in Al-Ghassaniyah, but we do not know whether they are Christian or Muslim. Our job is to stand with the people and pray. We are doing everything we can to help and assist those who remain, even if it is only by giving some courage and hope." (S.C.)