A passionate appeal for the release of 12 religious Sisters kidnapped in Syria has been made by a bishop from a country torn apart by violence and persecution. Syria's Bishop Selwanos Boutros Alnemeh of Homs and Hama said that he was "very sad" about the abduction of the Sisters from the Convent of St Tekla in Maalaoula, a largely Christian town north of Damascus.
Speaking in an interview with Aid to the Church in Need, Syriac Orthodox Bishop Alnemeh said that he had not heard from the Sisters since their disappearance 10 days ago but believed they are now being held in Yabrud, 12 miles from Maaloula.
The bishop said: "I demand the immediate release of the nuns, who have done no harm to anyone. We've reached the point where even nuns are being abducted. What have they done wrong? It's a crime. The abductors want to demonstrate that they know no mercy."
The bishop stressed the injustice of the abduction, saying the Greek Orthodox Sisters were not involved in politics.
He said: "The Sisters were neither on the side of the regime nor on that of the opposition. In the convent they took in war refugees without regard for their religion, including Muslims."
Pope Francis appealed on Sunday for the release of the Sisters who were abducted from their monastery on Monday 2 December by armed men.
At about the same time as the Pope's message, Al Jazeera television broadcast video clips which appear to show the Sisters explaining that they had taken away for their own safety. Bishop Alnemeh said it was unclear when the video clips were recorded or how they were made.
In another Aid to the Church in Need interview on Wednesday 11 December, Damascus-based Melkite Greek Catholic Patriarch Gregorios III of Antioch also appealed for the release of the Sisters, saying that they should be returned without delay to the care of Greek Orthodox Patriarch John X of Antioch.
Both Patriarch Gregorios and Bishop Alnemeh said that there was still no further news of the whereabouts of Patriarch John X's brother, Archbishop Paul Yazigi, and Archbishop John Ibrahim, both abducted in April 2013 while returning to Aleppo.
Unable to confirm or deny conflicting reports of the bishops being in Syria or Turkey, Bishop Alnemeh said: "To date it has not been possible to confirm any of the information about where they are being held." Nor could he comment on other reports that one of the archbishops had died in captivity.
Bishop Alnemeh stressed how Christians had been particularly affected by the conflict, stating this in his episcopal city of Homs alone, 3,000 Christians had died, a further 100,000 had been forced to flee and a number of churches had been destroyed.
Bishop Alnemeh said Syrians were tired of war. "The Syrian people no longer believe that this is revolution or reform, or the setting up of a new state on a clear foundation," he said. The bishop said the people were pinning their hopes on the Geneva II peace conference due to take place in January.
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