Syrian priest killed during rebel attack on Franciscan convent

Civilians and Free Syrian Army fighters carry Syrian opposition flags and chant slogans as they walk past damaged buildings during a protest against Syria's President Bashar al-Assad in Aleppo June 14. (CNS photo/Jalal al-Halabi, Shaam News Network hando ut via Reuters)
Civilians and Free Syrian Army fighters carry Syrian opposition flags and chant slogans as they walk past damaged buildings during a protest against Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad in Aleppo June 14. (CNS photo/Jalal al-Halabi, Shaam News Network hando ut via Reuters)

VATICAN CITY (CNS) — A 49-year-old Syrian priest and hermit was killed June 23, apparently when a group of rebels attacked the Franciscan Convent of St. Anthony in Ghassanieh, a village in the north near the Turkish border.

Franciscan Father Pierbattista Pizzaballa, the head of the Franciscan Custody of the Holy Land, told Vatican Radio June 24 that Father Francois Murad was not a Franciscan, but had taken refuge in the convent when it became clear he was not safe at the Syriac Catholic hermitage he was building nearby. Syriac Catholic Archbishop Jacques Behnan Hindo of Hassake-Nisibi told Fides, the news agency of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, that Father Murad “sent me 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.”

Father Pizzaballa told Vatican Radio that Ghassanieh — “like other Christian villages — has been almost completely destroyed and is almost totally abandoned.” He said he believes the only people left in Ghassanieh “are the rebels with their families, rebels who are not from Syria and who are extremists.”