BEIRUT: Greek Orthodox Patriarch John X Yazigi appealed Thursday to the international community to exert efforts to secure the release of 12 nuns who were forced to evacuate a monastery in the Syrian town of Maaloula.
“I appeal to the international community to exert all efforts to help secure the release of the abducted nuns from Mar Taqla Monastery in Maaloula,” Yazigi said in a televised news conference at the University of Balamand, adding that he had been informed the rebels took the nuns to the nearby rebel-held town of Yabroud.
Yazigi said there was an urgent need for “concrete actions, not words.”
“We do not want decision-makers on both international and regional levels to merely express condemnation but to exercise their efforts and pressure for the release of those whose only sin was their love for their land and monastery,” said Yazigi, whose brother is one of two bishops kidnapped in Syria earlier this year.
Aleppo’s Greek Orthodox Archbishop Paul Yazigi and Syriac Orthodox Archbishop Yohanna Ibrahim were abducted in April by armed men while en route to Aleppo from the Turkish border. They were reportedly on their way to negotiate the release of three priests who are also missing.
Syrian rebels recaptured Maaloula, located north of Damascus, Monday from regime forces following three days of heavy clashes.
At the time of the recapture, the nuns were inside the convent and were among only a few residents left in the historic Christian town.
The Vatican’s ambassador to Syria said earlier this week that rebel fighters moved a dozen nuns and three female helpers from Maaloula to Yabroud.
The nuns were forced to evacuate the convent along with dozens of orphans who had been trapped in the monastery since September.
It was not clear whether they were evacuated or kidnapped.
Lebanon’s Council of Maronite Bishops made a fervent plea Wednesday for the release of the nuns as well as the orphans they cared after.
Yazigi said aggressions against Christians would not shake their commitment to their land, saying that “the bells of our churches that we the Christians of the East tolled in the past will keep tolling so that everyone can hear the love we have for others of different religions.”
“The ruthlessness of the coming days will not force us to abandon our land,” he said, adding that such behavior targets Christians and Muslims alike.
Yazigi also said he had canceled his visit to various Gulf countries set to begin Friday in light of the developments in Maaloula.
Meanwhile, Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea called on the relevant United Nations institutions particularly the Security Council, to place the town of Maaloula under international protection, according to a statement released by the party.
Geagea also called for the immediate release of the nuns, adding that “what they have gone through constitutes abuse and humiliation.”