Pope Francis celebrated the feast of St Ignatius of Loyola by meeting the family of a Jesuit kidnapped in Syria a year ago and joining them and priests at the Jesuit headquarters for lunch.
Fr Giuseppe Bellucci said the Pope had “communicated at the last minute” his desire to join the community at the Jesuit headquarters for lunch on July 31, the feast day of the founder of the Society of Jesus.
“It was a private and simple visit,” Fr Bellucci said.
Among those present in the community’s refectory were the four sisters and three brothers of Italian Jesuit Fr Paolo Dall’Oglio, who was believed to have been kidnapped in northern Syria on July 29, 2013. He has not been heard from since.
On the first anniversary of his disappearance, one of his brothers and one of his sisters – speaking on behalf of the family – posted a video on YouTube asking those responsible for Fr Dall’Oglio’s disappearance to let the family know if he was alive or if they should be in mourning.
Pope Francis offered them “words of appreciation and comfort,” Fr Bellucci said.
After lunch the Pope visited one of the chapels in the Jesuit headquarters that had been remodelled with mosaics by Fr Marko Rupnik and joined the community for a quick espresso, served in little plastic cups.
In their video the Dall’Oglio family said: “We would like to once again hold him in our arms; however, we also are prepared to mourn for him.”
Archbishop Mario Zenari, the Vatican nuncio to Syria, told Vatican Radio: “Unfortunately, there is still no concrete, certain and trustworthy element” to help the Church, the Italian government, the Jesuits or his family know whether he was still being held or had been killed.
“I, too, would like to make a heartfelt appeal to those responsible for his kidnapping,” the archbishop said. “Have pity for the deep pain of his family and all those who knew and held him in esteem; give us news about his fate.”
Archbishop Zenari said his appeal also went to those who kidnapped two Orthodox bishops, an Orthodox priest and a Catholic priest – all of whom are still missing.
In their video, the Dall’Oglio family also remembered the other victims of kidnapping in Syria. On the anniversary of the Jesuit’s disappearance, they said: “Many of us will be praying for him and standing by him, as we will be doing for those who have been kidnapped, unjustly detained, and for the many who are suffering because of this war.”
Fr Dall’Oglio had been based in Syria for 30 years, and since 1982 had been restoring an ancient monastery in the desert and forming a religious community dedicated to Christian-Muslim dialogue and harmony.