(terrasanta)(g.s.) – Confirmation of the abduction in Syria of a friar of the community arrives from Jerusalem and the curia of the Custody of the Holy Land: the Syrian Fr. Hanna Jallouf, ofm (aged 62). The religious is the parish priest of the Christian village of Knayeh, in the valley of the Orontes River near the Turkish border, and was taken in the night between 5th and 6th October with about twenty other hostages. The perpetrators of the kidnapping are believed to be armed men close to the Jihadist movement Jahbat Al-Nusra. Some Franciscan sisters were able to escape abduction by finding refuge in private homes.
The Apostolic Vicar of Aleppo, Bishop Georges Abou Khazen, who is also responsible for the Latin rite community of the valley of the Orontes, told the agency Fides that he knows very little about what is happening: “We are unable to contact anyone, and nobody has contacted us. We only know that yesterday as well the convent was sacked and other people of the village went into hiding. There are youngsters, boys and girls, amongst the people abducted.”
In 2008, when Syria was not yet turned upside-down by the ongoing conflict, an article on Fra Hanna’s work was published in our Italian journal Eco di Terra Santa. The friars minor of the Custody – we wrote – have been present in the Orontes Valley for over 125 years. The convent, the youth centre, the nursery school and the dispensary of Knayeh, run by Franciscan sisters, are still at the centre of life in the village today, which proudly keeps a strong Christian identity and has given the Syrian Church many priestly and religious vocations, both male and female. “According to tradition,” Fr. Hanna explained to our editor, Giuseppe Cafulli, “St. Paul, after having had the news and the joy of being able to convert the Greeks to Christianity, went from Jerusalem to Antioch. At that time there were three roads that linked Apamea to Antioch. One was the military road to Aleppo, another passed close to the Oronte but for six months could not be used because of the floods and a third passed just behind this hill. St. Paul very probably passed through here, evangelizing these lands. In short, we are certainly the descendants of the first Christians converted by the missionary apostle.”
Several years ago Fr. Hanna was director of the prestigious College of the Terra Santa in Amman (in Jordan), but then he returned to the mountains of the Orontes. “My family,” the friar told the readers of the Eco, “comes from these valleys and for me it was a pleasant homecoming, but also a new challenge, because the villages of the Orontes, once the pride of Catholicism in Syria, are today experiencing a major diaspora… Young people leave in search of work and their fortune and this weakens the Christian communities and endangers the very existence of our churches. In the face of this situation, we once again have to wager on the future.”
Even before the official confirmations, the news of the abduction of Father Jallouf and the Christians of Knayeh began to spread from many Facebook pages in Arabic as of yesterday. The rumours – at the moment not confirmed – that follow on in quick succession say that the terrorists of Al Nusra went to Father Hanna demanding a sort of tax. Then they are alleged to have stolen documents and stamps of the parish and taken the priest before the Islamic court of Darkush, just north of Knayeh.