Islamist rebels have abducted 12 nuns from a convent in the historic Christian town of Maaloula, around 50 miles north of Damascus. The nuns were taken on Monday from the St Thecla Greek Orthodox convent to the nearby rebel-held city of Yabroud.
“Armed men burst into the monastery of St Thecla in Maaloula this afternoon. From there, they forcibly took 12 women religious,” the Apostolic Nuncio to Syria, Archbishop Mario Zenari said, citing a statement from the Greek-Orthodox Patriarchate.
“I don't know if it is a kidnapping or if they were removed by the rebels because they wanted to have a free hand in the monastery for fighting purposes,” he said. “All we can do is to pray for those nuns, pray that those people who have them in their hands treat them well.” The dozens of orphaned children who also lived at the convent had already left, the archbishop said.
Many of the town’s 5,000 residents had already fled because of intense fighting in the region over control of the Damascus-Homs highway, and anti-Christian atrocities by rebels. Maaloula was the scene of fierce fighting between rebels and government forces in September.
On Monday Christians in Damascus held a service to protest over the capture of the nuns and the kidnapping of two archbishops in April whose whereabouts are still unknown.
The Pope appealed to all those in St Peter’s Square at his general audience to pray for the nuns. “Let us pray for these nuns, for these sisters,” he asked, “and for all those who have been kidnapped as a result of the current conflict. Let us continue to pray and act for peace together. Let us pray to the Virgin.”