Pope Francis Appeals for Release of Nuns Kidnapped by Syrian Rebels

By Barbara Boland | December 5, 2013 | 11:51 AM EST

Pope Francis, from a Vatican window, addresses a crowd in St. Peter's Square. (AP)

(CNSNews.com) – Pope Francis yesterday called for people to pray for the release of 12 Greek Orthodox nuns who were kidnapped on Monday from their convent in Maaloula by Syrian rebels possibly tied to the terrorist Al Nusra front. Maaloula is one of the last places on earth where some people still speak Aramaic, the language Jesus spoke.

"I would like to invite everyone to pray for the religious sisters of the Greek Orthodox Monastery of Saint Tecla in Maaloula, in Syria, who, two days ago, were taken away by force by armed men,” said Pope Francis on Wednesday during a general audience at the Vatican.  "Let us pray for these sisters, and for all those who have been kidnapped on account of the on-going conflict. Let us continue to pray and to work for peace.”

The Pope, addressing a crowd in St. Peter’s Square also appealed to the Virgin Mary, the “Queen of Peace,” to help end the conflict.

The nuns were taken from Maaloula on Dec. 2, according to BBC Monitoring Middle East, and placed at a house in the nearby town of Yabroud, which is controlled by the rebels. The reporting on the nuns’ exact location and condition is sketchy at this point because of the insurgent fighting in Syria and particularly in Maaloula, where the Al Qaeda-linked Al Nusra Front has launched numerous attacks since September.

A Greek Orthodox nun praying. (AP)

The Greek Orthodox patriarch, John Yazigi, pleaded for the nuns’ release on Tuesday, according to the BBC, saying, "We appeal to the seed of conscience that God planted in all humans, including the kidnappers, to release our sisters safely. We call upon the international community and world governments to [help secure the] release of nuns of Mar Taqla convent and the orphans who are being held since yesterday."

Archbishop Mario Zenari, the Vatican’s ambassador to Syria, said the 12 nuns and three female helpers had been moved to Yabroud, which is about 12 miles north of Maaloula, reported the BBC. Zenari also said that Maaloula “is like a ghost town” because of the ongoing fighting and added that the nuns had been among some of the few remaining residents in the small town.

According to the Associated Press on Tuesday, the nuns’ mother superior, Pelagia Sayaf, called the mother superior of a nearby convent, Sister Febronia Nabhan, and said she and the other nuns and helpers were safe in Yabroud. However, it is unclear, whether the nuns are being forcibly held and whether or when they will be free to leave Yarboud.