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By BosNewsLife Middle East Service with additional reporting by Vatican Radio’s Lydia O’Kane
DAMASCUS, SYRIA (BosNewsLife)– Syrian Christians were rejoicing Monday, March 10, after rebels freed more than a dozen Greek Orthodox nuns ending their near four-month captivity in exchange for Syrian authorities releasing dozens of female prisoners.
The kidnappers have been identified as militants from the Nusra Front, the Syrian affiliate of terrorist group al-Qaida.
Lebanese state media reported that the women, who were released late Sunday, March 9, had been taken to the town of Judaydat Yabus on the Syrian-Lebanon border and were now on their way to Damascus by minibus.
The nuns drama started December 2 when they were kidnapped after militants took the ancient quarter of the Christian town of Maaloula north of Damascus in Syria.
They were seized December 2 from the Greek Orthodox monastery of Mar Thecla and then were reportedly taken to the rebel-held town of Yabroud, towards the north, which is now the focus of a government military operation.
The nuns, who are believed to be mostly Syrian and Lebanese, reportedly worked in the convent’s orphanage.
“It is understood that most of the 40 nuns at [Mar] Thecla Convent and the orphans in their care were relocated to a safer location before the outbreak of violence,” said Middle East Concern (MEC) an advocacy group working with Christians in the area.
The Mother Superior Pelagia Sayaf, and some other nuns chose to stay at the Convent where they were abducted.
Despite the ordeal the Mother Superior said in published remarks that “God did not leave us”.
Their release followed extensive discreet negotiations between the Syrian government and Jabhat al-Nusra mediated by Lebanese and Qatari officials, according to Christians with close knowledge about the situation. The government is releasing 153 Syrian women detained without trial, MEC said.
Kidnappings by both rebel groups and government forces have become increasingly common, and many Christians have been targeted, according to rights activists and church groups. More than 100,000 people have died and 9.5 million people displaced since the uprising against President Bashar al-Assad began three years ago.
Amid the turmoil, Syrian Church leaders reportedly requested “perseverance in prayer for peace and stability” in Syria. “There are several causes of deep distress for many Syrians, including the continued prevalence of kidnapping, denial of aid…and attacks on aid convoys [and] the use of siege tactics in several areas employed by numerous parties to the on-going crisis,” MEC told BosNewsLife.
While Syrian Christians “thanked” prayers “and rejoice in the release of these people” they requested prayers that
the “nuns of Maaloula and their attendants will recover quickly from their ordeal, and be able to resume caring for
orphans and others in need,” according to a statement.
Syrian Christians also demanded prayers for two bishops kidnapped in April, a monk missing since early August, two priests kidnapped in February 2013 “and other Christians held hostage” that they “will be released unharmed”, said MEC, citing the Christians.
Among other prayer requests were that believers “know the close presence of Jesus, the guidance of the Spirit and the protection of the Father” that “violence will cease, peace be restored” and that “clear rule of law be applied equally to all” throughout Syria
Syrian Christians, a minority in the heavily Islamic country, also urged prayers that the “international community, together with those in local control will act decisively to ensure that humanitarian aid reaches all those in need.”
(BosNewsLife, the first truly independent news agency covering persecuted Christians, is ‘Breaking the News for Compassionate Professionals’ since 2004).
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