A TORCH-LIT rally was held in Rome last week to show support for Fr Paolo Dall’Oglio, the Jesuit missionary priest in Syria who disappeared six years ago in the Islamic State-held enclave of Raqqa (News, 2 August 2013). The gathering on 13 February in front of the Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore came as conflicting reports appeared in the media over whether he is still alive or has been murdered by the Islamic extremist group.
Fr Dall’Oglio, aged 64, had lived in Syria for 35 years, where he created a centre for Muslim-Christian friendship in a sixth-century former monastery. He was expelled in 2012 after voicing his opposition to the Syrian President, Bashar al-Assad. Fr Dall’Oglio was last seen in July 2013 after he had slipped back into the country to negotiate the release of a kidnapped TV crew.
Earlier this month, The Times quoted Kurdish sources that claimed that the priest was still alive and was being held in one of the few remaining IS redoubts in eastern Syria. It suggested that he was being used, with two other Western hostages as bargaining chips in negotiations with the United States-backed Kurdish-Arab forces surrounding them.
A spokesman for the Syrian Democratic Forces, however, told the Italian news agency ANSA that they had no knowledge of Fr Dall’Oglio’s situation.
Pope Francis met the family of Fr Dall’Oglio, a fellow Jesuit priest, in a private audience earlier this year — a gesture described by a Vatican spokesman as intended to show his “affection and proximity” to Fr Dall’Oglio and his relatives. The Pope had previously met the family in 2014, near the first anniversary of his disappearance.
Fr Dall’Oglio’s kidnapping occurred just two months after two Orthodox prelates, the Syrian Oriental Orthodox Archbishop of Aleppo, Mor Yohanna Ibrahim, and the Greek Orthodox Archbishop of Aleppo, the Most Revd Paul Yazigi, were taken from their car by armed men on a road to Aleppo (News, 31 May 2013).