By BosNewsLife Middle East Service
BRUSSELS/DAMASCUS (BosNewsLife)-- An Italian Jesuit priest who went missing in Syria several months ago is still alive, Christians involved in the case said Wednesday, October 2. Archdeacon Emanuel Youkhana of the Assyrian Church in the East told a gathering at the European Parliament that reports from inside Syria confirm that that "Father Paolo Dall’Oglio is alive".
No more detail was given about his condition, said the news service of Open Doors, the Christian aid and advocacy group that organized Tuesday's gathering.
Dall’Oglio was reportedlt abducted July 29 by Islamic militants to the al-Qaida terror group in the northern Syrian city of ar-Raqqah. The Vatican would not confirm the news.
A month later, several reports claimed that the priest had been killed, although the Vatican remained tight-lipped. The Britain-based pro-opposition Syrian Observatory of Human Rights recently said the priest was kidnapped after a visit to the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, a rebel group linked to al-Qaida.
"Dall’Oglio is not the only priest in Syria whose whereabouts and wellbeing have created headlines in recent months. Bishops Yohanna Ibrahim and Boulos Yaziji were kidnapped in April and have yet to be released," said the Open Doors news service
World Watch Monitor (WWM).
Youkhana made the remarks while presenting the Open Doors-backed report 'Vulnerability Assessment of Syria’s Christians' to a reportedly packed room of Brussels parliamentarians, policymakers and Non Governmental Organizations.
Open Doors said it has a ‘Save Syria’ campaign, in 13 countries, with more than 150,000 signatures on a petition for Western governments to keep the plight of persecuted Christians "at the front of their thinking".
Beyond the kidnappings of leading Christian figures inside the country, the situation for the nation’s Christian minority is precarious, the group said.
"Syria’s Christians are “squeezed” in between a rock and a hard place," explained Open Doors spokeswoman Esther Kattenberg. Christians "neither feel comfortable siding with the widely condemned current [President] al-Assad government, nor the various factions, many of which are Islamists with links to al-Qaida, which make up the opposition," she added.
Youkhana urged the gathering to ensure that a planned international meeting in Geneva to discuss Syria should not become a deal between "extremist groups" and called for the EU to use its influence to let minorities have their say.
A representative for EU foreign affairs, Maciej Golubiewski, reportedly agreed that this should be the EU’s course of action, though he refused to make any promises.
Youkhana said Syria’s Christians, like those in Egypt, are desperate for a “third option”. They do not want to live inside a police state or a military dictatorship, he said, but neither do they want to live under Sharia, or Muslim, law.
"The Christian minority were not guests within the country who needed to be appeased, but rather the very fabric of the country, whose existence there dates back to the first century," WWM quoted him as saying.
He urged authorities to treat them "as fully part of the future of Syria, whatever political solution is found." He said many Christians are asking whether they have a future in the country or whether their voices would be heard. Syrian church leaders say that at a time of war and hardship they are finding "a unity of mission and purpose" that they had not encountered before.
European Parliamentarian Ria Oomen-Ruijten, from the Netherlands, told the gathering that the European Parliament had been concerned about the plight of Syria’s Christians since October 2011 and had been “consistent” throughout. She said a political, democratic solution remained Syria’s best chance of future recovery, following a civil war that killed more than 100,000 people.
(BosNewsLife, the first truly independent news agency covering persecuted Christians, is 'Breaking the News for Compassionate Professionals' since 2004).
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