A revered Syrian monk and hermit, Father Franҫois Mourad, has been killed during an assault of the Franciscan monastery in a predominantly Christian village in the north near the Turkish border, Vatican Radio reported.
The circumstances surrounding Mourad’s death in the monastery of St. Anthony of Padua, about 70 miles from Syria’s largest city Aleppo, remain unclear.
It’s believed that Maroud was shot dead when tried to defend several religious sisters from the rebels when the monastery that gave them shelter was attacked and pillaged on June 23.
In a statement issued earlier this week the Prefect Cardinal Leonardo Sandri said that “this latest episode of unjustified violence, arouse the conscience of the leaders of the conflicting parties and the international community, so that, as repeatedly stated by the Holy Father Pope Francis, the guns of war be silenced and a season of justice and reconciliation begun for a future of peace.”
After the outbreak of the war in Syria, Father François left his hermitage to be with a friar in fragile health and to serve a neighboring community of religious sisters, Vatican Radio reported.
The head of the Franciscan Custody of the Holy Land, Franciscan Father Pierbattista Pizzaballa, told Vatican Radio that Mourad was not a Franciscan, but had to take refuge in the convent after it became clear he was not safe at the Syriac Catholic hermitage that he was building nearby.
According to Father Pizzaballa, the Ghassanieh neighborhood "like other Christian villages, has been almost completely destroyed and is almost totally abandoned," adding that the only people left there were "the rebels with their families, rebels who are not from Syria and who are extremists."
"The only thing we can do, other than pray for Father Francois and all the victims, is pray that this folly ends soon and that no more weapons are sent to Syria because that would only prolong this absurd civil war," Father Pizzaballa suggested.
He described the current situation in Syria as a "battleground, and not just between Syrian forces, but also for other Arab countries and the international community. The ones paying the price are the poor, the small and the least, including the Christians," according to the Catholic News Service.
"The international community must put the brakes on this," he noted.
Syriac Catholic Archbishop Jacques Behnan Hindo of Hassake-Nisibi told Fides (the news agency of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples) that Father Mourad sent him “several messages which showed he was aware of living in a dangerous situation and was willing to offer his life for peace in Syria and the world."
Killings and abductions have become common in Syria as the country has been locked in a two-year internal conflict. In April, two Orthodox bishops were kidnapped when they returned to Aleppo from the Turkish border. Their driver was killed.
Syria's 10 percent Christian population is particularly vulnerable to such attacks, especially from the opposition groups, as they have remained largely neutral or supportive of the government.