Missing nuns, missing details, in Maaloula (updated)

Trust me on this. I know that it must be impossible for journalists to cover events in the war-torn land of Syria right now without getting their heads blown off. This is especially true for correspondents linked to Western news organizations that are trying to cover the actions of Islamist radicals.

However, how hard is it to cover the actual statements of major churches and, at times, even the Vatican? I realize that this can lead to unbalanced coverage, if these Western voices are quoted in isolation. I get that. However, what I don’t understand is journalists with major organizations — such as the Associated Press — failing to cover the basics on life-and-death stories of interest to many readers.

At the moment, Eastern Orthodox listservs and parish websites are buzzing with some horrifying news from the highly symbolic town of Maaloula (click here for a column I wrote on earlier events in the fighting there). First, here is the Associated Press brief. Try to make sense of this:

DAMASCUS, Syria (AP) – The mother superior of a Syrian convent says 12 nuns have been abducted by opposition fighters and taken to a rebel-held town.

Febronia Nabhan, Mother Superior at Saidnaya Convent, said Tuesday that the nuns and three other women were taken the day before from another convent in the predominantly Christian village of Maaloula to the nearby town of Yabroud.

Syrian rebels captured large parts of Maaloula, some 40 miles northeast of the capital, on Monday after three days of fighting.

Nabhan told the Associated Press that the Maaloula convent’s mother superior, Pelagia Sayaf, called her later that day and said they were all “fine and safe.” The state news agency SANA had reported Monday that six nuns, including Sayaf, were trapped in a convent in Maaloula.

I have no idea what is going on here. For starters, WHO is “fine and safe” right now? Six sisters in the other besieged convent in Maaloula or the 12 taken away to other location by rebels?

By the way, what is the name of the other convent led by Nabhan? (The answer, I assume, is Our Lady of Saidnaya.) Why not tell readers the religious tradition that is involved here? And what is the name of the besieged facility in Maaloula, which just happens to be one of the most symbolic Christian sites in the Middle East (and thus, the world)?

And what are we to make with the “three days of fighting” reference? Maaloula has been under siege for weeks, if not months. And why is this town so important to “opposition fighters” and “rebels”? Why is it so important to overthrow an ancient institution containing some nuns and lots of orphans?

So Eastern Orthodox Christians are not reading the Associated Press, for obvious reasons. We are having to turn to AsiaNews.it for some specifics.

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