October 26, 2012

Abducted Orthodox Priest in Syria Found Dead

October 25, 2012

A Greek Orthodox priest has been found slain after being kidnapped near the Syrian capital of Damascus, the Syrian government and the Vatican news service reported Thursday.

The body of the Rev. Fadi Jamil Haddad, pastor of St. Elias Church in Qatana, outside Damascus, was discovered in the Jaramana district of the capital, reported Agenzia Fides, the Vatican news service. The site was not far from the area where he was kidnapped by an “unidentified armed group" last Friday, the agency said.

The Vatican agency quoted a colleague saying the priest had been “horribly tortured.”

The official Syrian news service said the priest was found with a gunshot wound to his head. The government news agency blamed the crime on “terrorists,” its usual characterization of the armed opposition fighting to oust President Bashar Assad.

According to the official account, the priest was abducted while seeking the release of another person who had been kidnapped by militants.

But it was not clear if the priest’s slaying was political, sectarian or criminal in nature. Many Syrians have complained of a breakdown in law and order and a spike in kidnapping for ransom and other crimes as security has deteriorated. Opportunistic criminals have moved to take advantage of the nation's security void.

The Vatican news agency reported that the priest’s kidnappers had demanded a ransom equivalent to about $715,000 for the priest’s release. “It was, however, impossible to find the money and meet this exorbitant demand,” reported Agenzia Fides.
The Greek Orthodox population is considered the largest Christian denomination in Syria, where Christians represent perhaps 10% of the population. Syria is overwhelmingly Muslim.

Christian leaders in Syria say their community, which has ancient roots, is in a precarious position. Some Christians have joined the rebellion and called for Assad to step down. But many Syrian Christians back Assad, whose administration has been tolerant of religious minorities even as it has crushed political dissent.

Assad has tried to rally support among Christians and other minorities against the armed rebellion, which is led by the nation's Sunni Muslim majority. There have been reports from Syria of government efforts to arm Christian communities. But some Christian leaders have urged their co-religionists to remain neutral in the conflict.

Some Christians voice fears that Islamists will take over the secular Syrian government and that the nation will experience the kind of sectarian violence, including the bombing of churches and torching of Christian shops, that ravaged neighboring Iraq after the U.S.-led invasion toppled Saddam Hussein. Hussein, like Assad, was a secular autocrat who tolerated Christian religious practice. Tens of thousands of Iraqi Christians fled to Syria in the aftermath of Hussein’s fall.

October 25, 2012

A Greek Orthodox priest who tried to negotiate the liberation of a Christian doctor in Damascus province was found dead on Thursday, residents and the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

"The corpse of Fady Haddad, kidnapped last Friday (October 19), was found this morning in Damascus province," said the Britain-based Observatory.

Father Haddad served the St Elie parish in Qatana, a mixed Christian and Muslim town of 15,000 inhabitants 20 kilometres (12 miles) west of Damascus.

One resident said he was found murdered near the town.

"He was negotiating the release of a Christian doctor with the kidnappers, who demanded 50 million Syrian pounds ($660,000). He had managed to reduce their demand" by half, he told AFP on condition of anonymity.

Theft and kidnapping have become rampant in Syria, where criminals have taken advantage of the security vacuum caused by the fighting between rebels and the army.

"Last Friday, he went along with the doctor's stepfather to pay the ransom, but they were also abducted and the kidnappers had increased their demands before the priest's body was found on Thursday," the resident added.

The murder has sparked outrage in Qatana, where the priest was popular with Christians and Muslims alike for securing the release of a number of people, locals said.

Rare in a country plagued by civil war, state news outlets and opposition websites alike paid tribute to Father Haddad.

The Orthodox Patriarchate condemned the "savage crime" and denounced "attacks against civilians and religious figures who try to be messengers of peace under these difficult circumstances."

It further called on humanitarian organisations and the public to "condemn all crimes and robberies which undermine the safety of citizens."

The Syrian National Council, the main opposition bloc in exile, called Father Haddad a "symbol of national unity," and blamed pro-regime militiamen for his killing.

"The gangs belonging to the regime killed Father Fady Haddad in order to drag the country into sectarian strife," SNC spokesman George Sabra said, calling for an official judicial investigation into the murder.

"National unity in Syria and in the town of Qatana in particular is too solid to be undermined by ignorant and hateful acts," Sabra added.

"Father Fady was one of the symbols of national unity. Grant mercy on Father Fady Haddad, a martyr of the nation and humanity, and shame on those criminal killers who are destroying the country."

The Patriarchate of Antioch's Statement on the Killing of Fr. Fadi Haddad

"O Lover of Mankind, inasmuch as You are the God of Peace and Father of Mercies."

We turn to you our sorrowful hearts and ask You for mercy, that in Your compassion You will lead us to peace, treat us kindly, have compassion for us, and guide us to reason and awareness, we humans who are created in your divine image and likeness.

On October 18 of this year, the Reverend Father Fadi Haddad, priest of the parish of the Prophet Elias in Qatana went out on a noble humanitarian mission to return a member of his parish who had been kidnapped a few days earlier. What occurred was more difficult than expected and Father Fadi was himself kidnapped along with the other intermediary, the ransom, and a private vehicle. The tragic series of events began with negotiations with the kidnappers who demanded an enormous sum of money.

There had been hope that consciences would be sober, lest a painful tragedy occur, which is what happened, as the body of Father Fadi Haddad was found on the morning of Thursday, October 25 in the region of Drousha. On him were indescribable marks of torture and mutilation. He was identified by the Reverend Father Elias el-Baba, priest of the town of Hina and he was transported to the town clinic. The Patriarchate in Damascus was informed of his martyrdom, that his pure and blameless blood may a sacrifice for reconciliation and harmony.

We turn to God, may He be exalted, asking mercy and forgiveness for him. At the same time, however, we condemn in the harshest terms this beastly and barbaric act aimed at civilians, the innocent, and men of God who strive to be apostles of peace who bring hearts together, dress the wounds of the suffering, comfort the sorrowing, and strengthen the weak in these difficult circumstances. We express the profundity of our pain as our beloved nation witnesses heinous acts that are unprecedented in its long history which has enjoyed a life built on the foundation of love, cooperation, peace, and harmony.

We urge all citizens, humanitarian organizations and all those of good will and good intentions, who are the majority of our kind, peaceful, and life-loving people, to join with us in condemning the kidnapping, murder, destruction, robbery, and assault on the security and well-being of citizens that is taking place. We call them to dialogue, peace, and harmony, especially the men of God among them.

We likewise call children of this country to cooperate and support each other in these difficult circumstances in order to contain the evil that is besetting us in the hope of putting an end to it and to the bath of innocent blood that takes place every day, in which innocent people from all elements of society in the nation are falling. We hope to arrive at putting a final end to it through all humanitarian means which lead to the outbreak of peace instead of war, love instead of hatred, rapprochement instead of estrangement, as our common history has seen and sees.

We turn to our beloved children and affirm that we are children of resurrection and life because our Lord taught us when He said:

"I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life."

We are children of the hope that conquers all human feeling of weakness. We remind them that the Savior's crucifixion preceded His Resurrection from the dead. The path to Golgotha ends with life bursting forth from the tomb with the light of the Savior's glorious Resurrection.

We affirm to all our children that we remain steadfast in our faith and our hope in the power of our Lord who desired that we have life, and more abundantly (John 10:10). We call on them in the love of Christ to remain in their land and their nation and for us not to stand at the border of tragedy and weep for our dead, since it is the will of Life for us to grow in faith and hope. We urge them to look to our future which we are building by the power of faith, to realize free and dignified life for the children of our nation and our people.

We ask God that the martyrdom of Father Fadi Haddad be a sacrifice offered for the children of this nation and a stopping point to the painful events that we are living in this wicked time.

We ask God's rich and abundant mercy for our beloved departed martyr and we turn to him for mercy for our people, our beloved nation, and for all the peoples and countries of this afflicted Middle East.

Issued by the Patriarchate on October 25, 2012.