By Murcadha O Flaherty
A NINE-DAY programme of prayer commenced on Thursday, 30th March at a London church for a priest held captive by Islamist extremist group Daesh (ISIS).
The Novena for Syria, being held at Farm Street Church, Mayfair, comes amid renewed hopes for the safety of Father Paolo Dall’Oglio, who was kidnapped on 29th July 2013. Fr Dominic Robinson, Superior of Farm Street Jesuit Community, organised the novena for Father Dall’Oglio, a fellow Jesuit priest, whose whereabouts remains unknown three years and eight months after he went missing. Fr Dall’Oglio was reportedly kidnapped in the northern Syrian city of Raqqa, which Daesh has made their headquarters in the region.
Talking about the Novena for Syria, which runs until 7th April, Fr Robinson said: “These nine days of prayer and reflection are a spiritual vigil that will revitalise our faith that Father Paolo will be returned home safely to us. Despite fears of his demise, colleagues in the Middle East believe he is still alive – we share that hope with all our prayers.”
(Fr Paolo Dall'Oglio outside Deir Mar Musa Monastery near Damascus © Aid to the Church in Need)
Fr Robinson, chaplain to Aid to the Church in Need (UK), the Catholic charity for persecuted and other suffering Christians, added: “The prayers and support offered by the Church – including Pope Francis – all embrace the desire for Father Paolo’s immediate release.”
In the 1980s Fr Dall’Oglio re-founded the sixth-century monastery Deir Mar Musa, near Damascus to promote inter-faith dialogue. His commitment to inter-religious relations earned him the Nobel Missionary Prize, which was awarded by the Cuore Amico Fraternità Missionary Association in his absence in 2014.
Referring to the words of a novena prayer calling for Fr Dall’Oglio’s release, Fr Robinson said: “[We ask God to] turn the hearts of his captors to compassion and justice. [May God] inspire all those working for his release to find a way to bring our brother, Fr Paolo, and all those held against their will to freedom and safety.”
The nine days of prayers will also mark the third anniversary of the death of Fr Frans van der Lugt, another Jesuit priest who worked in Syria. The Dutch priest lived for more than 40 years in the Jesuit house in Homs, where he was shot dead on 7th April 2014.
Fr Robinson said: “He stayed in the besieged Old City in Homs providing pastoral care and practical help for the remaining 75 Christians, and also helping Muslims trapped there. Fr Frans could have left Homs in the UN corridor but stayed to help those unable to leave.” Noting that the Dutch Jesuit Provincial had described Fr van der Lugt as “a martyr for reconciliation in the Middle East”, Fr Robinson added: “Father Frans dedicated his life to reconciliation between Christians and Muslims in the Middle East.” Fr van der Lugt and other ACN project partners provided emergency food parcels to both Christians and Muslims in Homs.
Earlier this month, the charity announced it was providing medical aid for 2,200 families in Aleppo and supplying 1,500 families in Damascus and nearby villages with food parcels for three months.
Directly under the Holy See, Aid to the Church in Need supports the faithful wherever they are persecuted, oppressed or in pastoral need. ACN is a Catholic charity – helping to bring Christ to the world through prayer, information and action.
The charity undertakes thousands of projects every year including providing transport for clergy and lay Church workers, construction of church buildings, funding for priests and nuns and help to train seminarians. Since the initiative’s launch in 1979, Aid to the Church in Need’s Child’s Bible – God Speaks to his Children has been translated into 172 languages and 50 million copies have been distributed all over the world.
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