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Italian Jesuit priest may have been kidnapped in Syria

The civil war continues to rage in Syria and fears are growing for the safety of Jesuit Father Paolo Dall'Oglio (Photo: CNS)

The Italian government fear that Jesuit Father Paolo Dall’Oglio may have been kidnapped in Syria. Foreign Minister Emma Bonino said that “it seems (Father Dall’Oglio) has been kidnapped by an Islamist group” that is a “local version of al-Qaeda”.

Bonino made her comments on an Italian television news programme. The foreign ministry has been trying to find out what happened to the Jesuit since he last spoke to friends in late July, saying he was returning to Syria, where he has worked for a number of decades.

The Reuters news agency had reported that militants with links to al-Qaeda kidnapped the priest while he was walking in the northern Syrian city of al-Raqqah.

Father Victor Assouad, provincial superior of the Jesuits in the Middle East, issued a statement saying Jesuits in the region were “deeply worried” about both Father Dall’Oglio and Dutch Jesuit Father Frans van der Lugt, a longtime resident of Syria who is in the besieged city of Homs and has been offering shelter to those fleeing the fighting.

Father Assouad thanked those trying to find Father Dall’Oglio and prayed that “this ordeal will come to an end soon.” He also asked the international community to do everything possible to protect Father Van der Lugt and his guests. The Jesuits are committed to pursuing their humanitarian action and renew their intention to “work for peace and reconciliation in Syria,” he added.

In a statement released by the Vatican, Cardinal Leonardo Sandri, prefect of the Congregation for Eastern Churches, pledged his prayers to the Jesuits and all those who were worried about “the continuing uncertainty about the situation” of Father Dall’Oglio.

At the same time, Cardinal Sandri expressed concern over the “absolute silence” that hangs over the fate of the two Orthodox bishops kidnapped in Syria on April 22 and the Armenian Catholic and Greek Orthodox priests kidnapped in February.

Pope Francis also offered prayers for Father Dall’Oglio during a Mass in Rome with his Jesuit confreres on July 31, the feast of St Ignatius.

The Jesuit had been based in Syria for 30 years, and since 1982 had been restoring an ancient monastery in the desert and forming a religious community dedicated to Christian-Muslim dialogue and harmony. He reportedly supported the rebel insurrection against President Bashar Assad and was expelled by Syrian authorities in June 2012 for reportedly helping people injured by government crackdowns.

Archbishop Mario Zenari, the Vatican nuncio to Syria, told Vatican Radio last week that Father Dall’Oglio is “a man of virtue, a Jesuit of great talent and a person who loves Syria.”