Pope Francis, at the end of his General Audience on Wednesday, December 4, called on everyone to pray for a group of Syrian nuns who were kidnapped from the Monastery of Saint Tecla, a Greek Orthodox monastery near the ancient Christian town of Ma’lula, about 35 miles north of Damascus.
“Now I would like to invite everyone to pray for the religious sisters of the Greek Orthodox Monastery of Saint Tecla in Ma’lula, in Syria, who, two days ago, were taken away by force by armed men. Let us pray for these sisters, and for all those who have been kidnapped on account of the on-going conflict. Let us continue to pray and to work for peace.”
Pope Francis then led the pilgrims gathered in St. Peter’s Square in praying the Hail Mary, encouraging them to have confidence in Mary and invoking the Blessed Mother as “Queen of Peace.”
According to media reports, the religious superior and four other sisters were kidnapped during the night by armed men who took them to nearby Yabrud. The government’s Sana news agency speculated that the kidnapping was the work of the Al Nusra Front, which the U.S. State Department defines as a terrorist organization linked to al-Qaida.
Chaldean Bishop Antoine Audo of Aleppo, said that Christians feel more threatened now because the kidnapping has brought the war “to a sacred Christian place, one where for centuries nothing like this has happened.”
Bishop Audo told Vatican Radio:
“Ma’lula is an important symbol not only for Christians, but also for Muslims in Syria and throughout the Middle East, because it is known that people there still speak the Aramaic dialect, the language of Christ.”
Bishop Audo said the church in Syria does not want to say this is a war against Christians, because they want to be a presence for reconciliation and coexistence. He added, “That is our vocation. We don’t want to create provocations with the Muslims.”
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NOTE: Early news reports said that twelve nuns were kidnapped. That number has now been revised; only five sisters have been kidnapped. As yet there is no word regarding their location or their condition. It’s believed they were taken, along with several other women, to the nearby rebel-held town of Yabroud, which also has a large Christian population.