A nine-day programme of prayer gets underway today (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.
Father 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.
Father 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, Father 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.”
Father 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 Father 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 Father Dall’Oglio’s release, Father 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 Father 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.
Father 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.
“Father 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 Father van der Lugt as “a martyr for reconciliation in the Middle East”, Father Robinson added: “Father Frans dedicated his life to reconciliation between Christians and Muslims in the Middle East.”
Father 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.
- For the full prayers of the Novena for Syria, please see: http://www.pathwaystogod.org/my-prayer-life/novenas/novena-syria2017