Father Dhiya Azziz has been released and is fine. The man belongs to the Order of Friars Minor and is the parish priest of Yacoubieh in Syria. He had been kidnapped last December 23, on his way back from Turkey, where he had visited his parents who fled from Iraq which is occupied by ISIS. The news was reported with a succinct statement on the site of the Custody of the Holy Land. He had been already seized last July, but managed to flee.
Father Dhiya Azziz was born in Mosul, the ancient Nineveh, in Iraq, on January 10, 1974. After having taken religious vows in 2002, he lived for a long time in Egypt. In 2010 he was back in the Custody of the Holy Land, before being sent to Amman. He was transferred to Syria afterwards, first to Lattakia, then to Yacoubieh, in the region of Oronte, a particularly dangerous area under Jaish al-Fatah’s control.
The Orthodox Bishops Boulos Yazigi, Metropolitan Archbishop of the Church of Antioch, and Archbishop Mar Gregorios Youhanna Ibrahim, Metropolitan of the Syrian Orthodox Church, are still in the hands of the jihadists. They were seized in April 2013 on the border with Turkey as well. There are no news yet about the Italian Jesuit Father Paul Dall’Oglio, kidnapped in Syria on July 29, 2013, nor about the priests Father Michel Kayyal, Armenian Catholic, and Father Maher Mahfuz, a Greek-orthodox, who had been abducted two and a half years ago, on February 9, 2013.
Father dall’Oglio who has been in Syria for over thirty years, has always been committed to peace dialog between Christians and Muslims and to social justice in the country, in the charisma of St Ignatius. He founded the monastery of Mar Mousa. He was in Raqqa, the Syrian city occupied by the fundamentalists of the Islamic State, when he was kidnapped, nearly two and a half years ago. In the month of October 2015, Father Jacques Murad, the Syrian-catholic priest from the same community to which belongs Father dall’Oglio, was released. He had been abducted by the ISIS militia five months earlier.
Over 20,000 religious and laic people disappeared. They are thought to have been captured by the Islamic fanatics or by the Syrian rebels. “The more time passes, the more the climate of mistrust and fear grows among people” the Archbishop Mario Zenari, papal nuncio in Syria, said.
Father Pierbattista Pizzaballa, Custodian of the Holy Land, stated yesterday at the microphones of the Vatican Radio that “the situation in Syria is always serious, dramatic”, then added: “We are very happy and satisfied that Father Dhiya has been finally set free”. He also said that “communication channels are still open” for the liberation of other priests.
In an exclusive interview for In Terris, on December 13 last year, the vicar patriarch of the Syrian Catholic Church of Antioch, of the archdiocese of Damascus of Siri, Archbishop Youhanna Battah Jihad, stated that “the situation is not homogeneous. Aleppo is a hot zone. In Iraq, Christians are persecuted and they are fleeing from the country”.
Over 12 million Syrians, over 10,000 of whom are children under five years of age, have fled from the country over a period of five years of war, a war “imported” from the outside, and the same number of people are suffering from hunger.