The organizations of Franciscan missionaries serving in the Holy Land have requested prayers for the safe return of Father Dhiya Aziz, who was abducted by militants in Syria on Saturday. The Custody of the Holy Land have stated that they lost contact with Fr. Aziz on July 4. He is a Franciscan priest of the organization, and was parish priest at Yacubiyeh, a village in Syria's Idlib province, more than 56 miles northeast of Latakia. “Some militants of an unknown armed brigade, perhaps connected with Jahbat al-Nusra, came to take him away for a brief interview with the Emir of the place. From that moment we do not have any more news and we are unable to trace his where abouts at the present moment,” the custody said in a July 6 communique. “We are doing everything possible to locate the place of his detention and secure his release. We entrust him to the prayers of all.” According to the custody, Fr. Aziz was born in Mosul, Iraq, in 1974. He studied medicine, and then entered religious life, making a first profession of vows in 2002. The following year he was transferred to Egypt, and in 2010 to Jordan. Fr. Aziz was later moved to Latakia, and he then volunteered to come to Yacubiyeh, a predominantly Christian village. Fr. Aziz' kidnapping is the latest in a series of attacks on Christian religious since the start of the Syrian civil war in 2011. In 2013, militants kidnapped a group of Greek Orthodox nuns, Fr. Paolo Dall’Oglio, S.J., and the Greek and Syriac Orthodox bishops of Aleppo. The nuns were eventually returned to their convent unharmed, but Fr. Dall’Oglio and the bishops remain missing. In 2014, Dutch priest Fr. Frans van der Lugt, S.J., was murdered in Homs. The priest served in Syria for more than four decades. He was involved in interreligious dialogue and had built as spirituality center that housed children with mental disabilities. The same year, another Franciscan priest, Fr. Hanna Jallouf, was kidnapped together with as many as 20 people from his parish in Qunaya, a neighboring village of Yacubiyeh — the two are less than a mile apart. In February, the Islamic State kidnapped at least ninety Christians from villages in northeast Syria. And in May, Fr. Jacques Mourad was kidnapped at gunpoint from a monastery southeast of Homs. The Syrian civil war began in March 2011 with demonstrations against the nation's president, Bashar al-Assad. The war has claimed the lives of more than 220,000 people, and forced 3.9 million to become refugees. Another 8 million Syrians are believed to have been internally displaced by the violence.
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