Syrian Priest Kidnapped by ISIS Now Free After 5 Months, Conducts First Mass
A Syrian priest who was kidnapped by the Islamic State terrorist organization in May was finally released Saturday, allowing him to conduct his first mass since his abduction the following day in the Homs province.
An unidentified church source told AFP that Father Jacques Mourad, the prior of the Mar Elian Monastery, has been released and is now taking shelter in a town about 3 miles from the city of Homs.
Although the 1,600-year-old monastery was destroyed by IS in August when the militant group took over the town of Quaryatayn and kidnapped over 230 people, including 60 Christians, Mourad was abducted months before the demolition when IS militants took over the ancient town of Palmyra in late May.
"Father [Jacques] Mourad is free," the unnamed source assured. "He is currently in the village of Zaydal."
The source could not provide details on how or why Mourad was granted his freedom. However, the source confirmed that the Syriac Catholic priest was able to celebrate mass on Sunday.
"The priest of the Syriac Catholic Church celebrated mass this morning in Zaydal," the source added.
AsiaNews.it confirmed Mourad's release with Monsignor Mario Zenari, apostolic nuncio in Syria, who added that the preist is in good health.
"Father Jacques Mourad was released on Oct. 10, and yesterday, at about 2 p.m., I spoke with him for the first time since his release," Zenari said. "He told me he was resting, and in good health."
Zenari said that Mourad will make his way to the Syrian capital of Damascus in the coming days to provide details of his kidnapping and his nearly five-month detention under one of the most brutal extremist organizations in the world.
"I have spoken a little over the phone, but without going into details of the kidnapping," Zenari said. "I can tell you right now [that] he was relaxed and has no health problems."
According to Aleteia, Mourad had not been heard from since his abduction but was recognized in an IS video that was released in late September, which showed a group of men meeting in Qaryatayn with an IS fighter.
The men in the video, which was titled "Fight until they pay the jizya pledging subservience to Muslim rule," had to sign a "payment contract" in order to continue living in their homes in the area.
Aleteia reports that under the contract, IS could not hurt Christians, force them to convert or take their possessions. Under the agreement, the Christians promised not to conspire against IS, erect crosses, use amplifiers, ring church bells or conduct ceremonies in public places.
Additionally, the Christians promised to pay a per capita tax that is based on social status. The taxes can be paid through semiannual payments. Those who do not abide by the agreement are subject to be treated like IS enemies.
Before IS destroyed the 1,600-year-old Mar Elian Monastery, Mourad had been working since 1991 to rebuild the monastery. He used the monastery as a base to help reconcile local Christians and Muslim residents.
Mourad previously served as a monk at the Mar Musa Monastery, which was founded by Jesuit Paolo Dall'Oglio. Dall'Oglio has been missing since July 2013 when he was went to Raqqa, the city that is now the IS' de-facto capital.