July 2nd, 2013
11:58 AM ET

CNN exclusive: Catholic monk not beheaded by Syrian rebels, friar says

By Mohammed Jamjoom and Daniel Burke, CNN

Jerusalem (CNN) - A Catholic monk was not among the men beheaded in a gruesome video circulating online, a friar who oversees Franciscans in the Middle East told CNN in an exclusive interview.

Father Franҫois Mourad, a Syrian, was shot eight times and killed June 23 at a Catholic monastery in Gassanieh, said Friar Pierbattista Pizzaballa, head of the Franciscan Custody of the Holy Land.

Mourad was buried the same day in a nearby village, the friar said.

A nine-minute video, which appears to have been shot with a handheld device, shows three men being beheaded on a grassy hill while a crowd shouts, “Allahu Akbar!” - Arabic for God is great. It is not clear where or when the video was shot.

A number of Catholic websites in the United States have posted the video online, saying that Mourad was among the three beheaded men.

“I deny this vigorously," Pizzaballa said. "He has nothing to do with this video and with (these) three poor persons."

Pizzaballa said he had seen the video, which he called “shameful.”

In a statement Friday, the Custody of the Holy Land also denied media reports that three friars had been killed in Syria recently.

Headquartered in Jerusalem, the Custody includes about 285 Franciscan friars and covers Israel, the Palestinian territories, Egypt, Jordan and Syria.

Pizzaballa said that Mourad sought refuge at Gassanieh because it was considered to be safe from Syria’s bloody civil war, which has claimed more than 93,000 lives, according to the United Nations.

The Vatican has not commented on the video and referred questions to Pizzaballa.

A June 25 report from Vatican Radio - the church’s official broadcast - said that Mourad was killed during a raid on the Franciscan monastery of St. Anthony of Padua in Gassanieh, a predominantly Christian village near the Turkish border.

Mourad was well-known in the region, according to the Franciscans. He completed his novitiate in Rome as a Franciscan of the Custody and moved to Syria, where he was a citizen, to live a contemplative life as a hermit. As the war wore on, Mourad sought refuge at the monastery.

Several Franciscans, four nuns and 10 Christians also lived at the monastery, which was considered safe until the raid, according to Pizzaballa.

“When (Father) Franҫois tried to oppose resistance to defend the nuns and other people, the guerrillas shot him, killing him,” according the Vatican Radio report.

Most of the Gassanieh's Christian population has fled, Pizzaballa told Vatican Radio, after weeks of assaults by Syrian rebels.

“Mourad was just one of the many men and women religious putting their faith on the front line in Syria, refusing to abandon the communities they serve, Christian and Muslim," Vatican Radio said.

"They stay because they want to be a sign of hope, light and comfort to people in the midst of destruction."

- CNN Religion Editor

Filed under: Catholic Church • Christianity • Foreign policy • Jerusalem • Middle East • Religious violence • Syria • Vatican

soundoff (254 Responses)
  1. kuewa

    Not sure what the point of this article is. The priest was unjustly murdered one way or another. Is being shot better than being beheaded? And is Pizzaballa a real name?

    July 2, 2013 at 7:48 pm |
    • Ken Margo

      How would you rather go?

      Pizzaballa? Makes me hungry!

      July 2, 2013 at 7:50 pm |
    • James Klima

      Yes but Syrian rebel denied it, and it is well known that Bashar regime want to evoke the sentiment of western audience with these tactics. They used the same tactics with the Grand Mufti, by killing his son, and it is well known he was kiled by Bashar but blamed on the rebels.

      Rebels have bigger fish to fry then run after a catholic monks, that are protected by religious law.

      July 2, 2013 at 7:59 pm |
    • Fiona

      Ignoring the silly comment about a perfectly fine Italian name...the point of the article is that a certain faction of Catholics are using that video as propaganda. It's obvious.

      July 2, 2013 at 8:14 pm |
    • Ken Margo

      @fiona.....Really? How many Italians do you know are named Pizzaballa?

      July 2, 2013 at 8:25 pm |
    • Ken Margo

      @fiona..................A certain faction? Propaganda? Catholics would do something like that? No way!

      July 2, 2013 at 8:35 pm |
  2. ToivoS

    Too bad this thread is becoming an Islam hate fest. The religious fanatic militias in Syria today are being funded and supported by the US and our allies Saudi Arabia, Qatar, France and Britain. There is not much that we can do to solve Syria's problems but we should have some control over our contribution. Why oh why are we making things worse? The Christian community in Iraq has been reduced by 80% following our invasion of that country. What will happen to the Syrian Christian community?

    July 2, 2013 at 7:27 pm |
    • Ken Margo

      Don't Christians pray? Won't god answer their prayers? If Christians are being wiped out then obviously it isn't an Islam hate fest!. President Obama gets ripped no matter which way he goes. That why this is a Syrian issue that needs to be solved by those IN the middle east.

      Lets be honest. No one really cares! The Russians could stop Assad from killing his own people. They support him.
      The Chinese govt. could have stopped that N. Korean nut from spouting off. They didn't
      The Russians could stop Iran from getting nukes. They wont.

      My point is simple. NOBODY CARES. NOBODY WANTS TO SOLVE PROBLEMS. We (the US) need to see the light and
      NOT give a damn either!

      July 2, 2013 at 7:43 pm |
    • MiLin

      Yes, most Christians have to flee the country due to the violence AGAINST them. The majority of Christians in the world are peaceful.

      July 2, 2013 at 8:45 pm |
  3. Steve

    What a deceptive headline!
    CNN is trolling

    July 2, 2013 at 6:52 pm |
  4. Ken Margo

    I know I may sound cold based on my previous posts. The truth is most people are "Arab fatigued" We're tired of the Israeli and Palestinian conflict. We're tired of all the wars in the region. We're tired of being dragged into it. If it wasn't for oil NOBODY would give a damn about the middle east. When you see how the "leaders" have treated the people (especially women) It's really hard to have sympathy for them. Let them solve their own issues amongst themselves, that way when things go wrong they can't blame the US.

    July 2, 2013 at 6:23 pm |
    • R.M. Goodswell

      No .. you are on the money.... nobody wanted us to get involved ..not these rebels, not the Syrian Government and most of all not the American Public.

      But our all knowing leaders that called it so well in Afghanistan and Iraq with their "nation building" saw something we didn't apparently.

      July 2, 2013 at 6:32 pm |
    • Ken Margo

      @R.M.......................We need to get out of the "Nation building" business. If a country attacks us. Blow them off the planet and move on.

      July 2, 2013 at 6:39 pm |
    • R.M. Goodswell

      That's what should have happened just after 9/11.

      As far as the "nation building" goes, we helped both Germany and J apan back on their feet to avoid another post ww1 scenario. It worked because both countries had the concept already down.

      with Iraq and Afghanistan that policy is doomed to fail because they weren't all that industrialized, even Iraq lagged far behind the west (no truly complex industry ie cars, aircraft, ). we would need to stay there roughly 30 years to make it stick (2 generations). You d think the Ivy league crowd would have paid enough for that education to grasp this.

      July 2, 2013 at 6:54 pm |
    • Byron

      Only I would disagree and I hate to is the blame game. Whether we are involved or not, if it does not go well for one side, that side will blame us. Even though that same side two years ago chanted death to American, today it will be our fault.

      July 2, 2013 at 7:01 pm |
    • Ken Margo

      @R.M....................To be fair WE attacked the wrong country. Iraq had nothing to with 9/11 We should rebuild them. Afghanistan on the other hand..................

      July 2, 2013 at 7:01 pm |
    • teevee

      thank you very much let them sort it out

      July 2, 2013 at 7:11 pm |
    • R.M. Goodswell

      Agree... Iraq fell because of Israel's power lobby in Washington (and a chance to put oil production in friendly hands).

      Had Saddam not launched the SCUDs at Israel, and used gas against Iran, the WMD line would totally not worked.
      SCUD missiles were the Soviets intermediate delivery vehicle for tac. nukes and chem weapons, so inspite of the common tagging by Hollywood – the threat was credible....just not worthy of an invasion.

      July 2, 2013 at 7:12 pm |
    • Ken Margo

      @R.M.........George Bush being incompetent and a liar didn't hurt either.

      July 2, 2013 at 7:18 pm |
    • R.M. Goodswell

      aye:) that's a pit we still haven't climbed out of:(

      July 2, 2013 at 7:24 pm |
  5. frank solan

    Ok, and what about the 3 men beheaded?... 3 between much more, by the west backed "rebels"...

    July 2, 2013 at 6:18 pm |
  6. R.M. Goodswell

    Good thing we are shelling out the dough for their weapons, bet they re giving Assad what for! wait...whats this? catholic priest ....8 times... wow! ...didn't see that coming.... but then im just your avg. dumb American right? ..what would I know...

    July 2, 2013 at 6:04 pm |
  7. k_Daraa

    A wise man once warned, "When you continue to look into the abyss, eventually the abyss looks into you."

    July 2, 2013 at 5:50 pm |
    • Ken Margo

      I couldn't agree with you more. The problem is the middle east needs to read what you wrote.

      July 2, 2013 at 6:05 pm |
  8. TheTruth

    Muslims kill in the name of "Allah"
    Catholics used to kill in the name of " holy Mary and the holy trinity"

    July 2, 2013 at 5:30 pm |
    • frank solan

      Muslims do not kill in the name of Allah... those you mention are not Muslims.

      July 2, 2013 at 6:20 pm |
    • gg

      ...but Catholics don't kill now. There is no moral equivalence. The Islamists are evil.

      July 2, 2013 at 6:49 pm |
    • AE

      What do atheists kill in the name of?

      July 2, 2013 at 6:50 pm |
    • Byron

      Catholics killing such as you described primarily is in the past 20-30 yrs ago the IRA was a bit bad but nothing like the radical muslims today.

      July 2, 2013 at 7:02 pm |
    • Lycidas

      @AE- their own unique passions

      July 2, 2013 at 7:06 pm |
    • Ken Margo

      @gg....................Catholics don't kill now? What are you smoking?

      July 2, 2013 at 7:08 pm |
    • AE

      People who want to kill, will find a reason to kill.

      Whether in the name of religion. Or in the name of their own selfish desires. Or in the name of their perfectly secular government. Or in the name of their crack cocaine habit.

      July 2, 2013 at 7:12 pm |
    • Dad Dee Oh

      So you are justifying muslim's crimes with the past mistakes?

      July 2, 2013 at 7:43 pm |
    • MiLin

      The Crusades were used in defense against those (mostly Muslim) attacking the Christians in the Holy Land. And for centuries, practicing Catholics are peaceful and run the MAJORITY of charities in the world. There are too many books written by anti-Catholics or non-Catholics who don't know anything about Church history.

      July 2, 2013 at 8:49 pm |
  9. k_Daraa

    Oh, okay it wasn't Father Mourad that was beheaded....he was only shot eight times. Young Catholic foreign fighters may begin to stream by the thousands into Syria to protect their Priests and churches from desecration by the takfiri sunni muslim, the minions of satan. Perhaps Obama can advocate the arming of the young Catholic fighters to help them rid the world of the nusrah front, ahrar al-sham, and AQ?

    July 2, 2013 at 5:17 pm |
    • Ken Margo

      You must be related to john mccain. All you want to do is arm more people. Get involved with a toilet of a country. We can't win no matter our intentions. wouldn't it be better if you could make john boehner pass a job bill?

      July 2, 2013 at 5:25 pm |
  10. Ken Margo

    The best thing for non Muslims is to leave that co'ckroach country. Obviously god doesn't give a damn about the Christians in the country, just like allah doesn't give a damn about muslims in the country. The U.S. should stay out of the country, let them kill themselves and the world will be better off.

    July 2, 2013 at 4:59 pm |
    • k_Daraa

      Ken, you do know that a third of Syrians are not sunni muslims? That is over six million people. Where do you think those refugees will go, if they leave Syria? Dearborn, Michigan? San Ysidro, California? While it is healthy, and nice to have a few tens of thousands of foreign well-educated, or trained artisans enter America as immigrants each year, it is not good to have 25 million Middle Eastern and North African Christian refugees flood into western countries, driven out by hate and death threats from murderous islamo-fascist thugs in their home countries.

      July 2, 2013 at 5:44 pm |
    • Ken Margo

      I don't want them over here either. These are the same people who'll scream bloody murder if a US soldier stepped into a mosque. They'll quote the Koran and swear we'll swim in blood and so on. Sorry, LEAVE THEM ALONE. Let Allah save them. They pray to him 5x a day. Obviously they believe, so lets see if their prayers will be answered.

      July 2, 2013 at 5:58 pm |
  11. dot

    He was still murdered by the same Syrian terrorists who the United States and the West support. Whether it was by gun or sword is irrelevant.

    July 2, 2013 at 4:54 pm |
    • Ken Margo

      We don't know if the US supports them or not. If they are rebels or not. The bottom line is those people like to kill. No matter the reason, time of day, sunny, cloudy or whatever killing is what they do and they do it well.

      July 2, 2013 at 5:01 pm |
    • k_Daraa

      Other news reports said that Nusrah Front Al Qaeda claimed they killed Father Mourad in Syria. Some FSA rebels sell or trade their western supplied weapons to AQ Nusrah Front and their Syrian takfiri brothers, the Ahrar al-Sham thugs. So that amounts to tacit American support of the takfiri fascist killers in Syria.

      July 2, 2013 at 5:48 pm |
    • Ken Margo

      Even if we give the weapons to whoever you want to have the weapons, we have no guarantee they'll stay in the right hands. Another example why we should stay out of the country. We have no idea who'll end up with the weapons.

      July 2, 2013 at 6:04 pm |
  12. ToivoS

    I feel so sad for what is happening to the Christian communities in Iraq and Syria. It is hard to believe that their has been a continuous Christian presence in those countries for 2 millenia and they might be driven out in just a few decades.

    It seems odd to report the current tragedy without mentioning that the rebels who carried out this murder are backed by the US allies Qatar and Saudi Arabia and are also provided weapons and training by the United States. Is it really in America's interest to support the eradication of Christianity in those poor countries.

    July 2, 2013 at 4:34 pm |
    • Honey Badger Don't Care

      What's really sad is that people actually believe that idiocy. I cant wait until we are finally done with religion and can advance as a society.

      July 2, 2013 at 4:50 pm |
    • Lycidas

      No viable evidence that says an advanced society does not have religion.

      July 2, 2013 at 5:13 pm |
    • Cpt. Obvious

      There is evidence that a more intelligent society would have less "fundamentalist" god belief. But perhaps it's a stretch to claim that a more advanced society would necessarily be any more intelligent.

      July 2, 2013 at 5:18 pm |
    • k_Daraa

      The proof is in the spirit motivating conflict. The 2.2 million Syrian Christians had a benign spirit, while the spirit motivating the non-Syrian takfiri sunni Nusrah Front fighters, and their henchmen, is one of hate, death, and destruction. Already over half a million Syrian Christians have fled Syria or have been murdered by the sunni muslims. Thousands of young sunni muslim fighters are pouring into Syria from all over the world to aid in the blood bath, much as they did in Iraq with its three-quarter a million Christians that were killed or driven out of Iraq since 2004. All that remains of Christians in Iraq are the desecrated graves of those that died there. What of the 14 million Christian Egyptians now persecuted under islamic law by the muslim brotherhood? When will young Christians begin to protect their own? When will the Obamas of the world protect Christians?

      July 2, 2013 at 5:33 pm |
    • Ken Margo

      @K_Daraa................You know as well as we do. Their are a lot of people who think Obama is a Muslim.

      July 2, 2013 at 6:08 pm |
  13. MrsFizzy

    So....he was still killed. And so were 3 other men we don't even know who they are.
    But I guess the point is that the crowd was not baying for the blood of a Christian being beheaded. It's so much nicer this way...

    July 2, 2013 at 4:26 pm |
    • Honey Badger Don't Care

      It's like here in the States when a blonde white girl is kidnapped. Nobody cares about the estimated 137 kidnappings that happend that day.

      July 2, 2013 at 4:31 pm |
    • gg

      Racist much?

      July 2, 2013 at 6:52 pm |
  14. Rainer Braendlein

    The great Winston Churchill on Islam:

    How dreadful are the curses which Mohammedanism lays on its votaries! Besides the fanatical frenzy, which is as dangerous in a man as hydrophobia in a dog, there is this fearful fatalistic apathy. The effects are apparent in many countries. Improvident habits, slovenly systems of agriculture, sluggish methods of commerce, and insecurity of property exist wherever the followers of the Prophet rule or live. A degraded sensualism deprives this life of its grace and refinement; the next of its dignity and sanct-ity. The fact that in Mohammedan law every woman must belong to some man as his absolute property – either as a child, a wife, or a concubine – must delay the final extinction of slavery until the faith of Islam has ceased to be a great power among men. Thousands become the brave and loyal soldiers of the faith: all know how to die but the influence of the religion paralyses the social development of those who follow it. No stronger retrograde force exists in the world. Far from being moribund, Mohammedanism is a militant and proselytizing faith. It has already spread throughout Central Africa, raising fearless warriors at every step; and were it not that Christianity is sheltered in the strong arms of science, the science against which it had vainly struggled, the civilisation of modern Europe might fall, as fell the civilisation of ancient Rome.[13]

    July 2, 2013 at 4:20 pm |
  15. Rainer Braendlein

    The most damned rat which ever lived on earth was Muhammad, the false Prophet. He was a master of lie, a thief, a murderer, a womanizer, a warlord, and a master of beheading und unlimited bloodshed. His followers still torture the mankind, and act according to the evil principles of their evil and wicked master-rat. May the triune God destroy them, and wipe out them from the earth.

    At Judgement Day Muhammad together with his mad followers will be condemned by the great God and Saviour Jesus Christ.


    July 2, 2013 at 4:11 pm |
    • Honey Badger Don't Care

      Or, there is no god and you are all wasting your time.

      July 2, 2013 at 4:14 pm |
    • Akira

      Or, you're just here to pimp out your website and steal advertising for it from CNN.

      July 2, 2013 at 7:49 pm |
  16. realist

    Barbarians regardless

    July 2, 2013 at 3:52 pm |
  17. JonathanL

    It must be a false belief that God is Great because if he was, he wouldn't allow his children to randomly commit murder against each other. But whether or not that is correct, consider at least that in words, they call out to God, while at the same time, in their actions, serve up their souls to the Evil force we call Satan. It is better to be a good godless person than an evil one who falsely professes to be pious. No god, not even a stupid one, would welcome their praises knowing the evil they spread like a disease throughout this Earth.

    July 2, 2013 at 3:49 pm |
    • Honey Badger Don't Care

      It is better to be a good godless person than an evil one who falsely professes to be pious.

      July 2, 2013 at 4:05 pm |
    • Honey Badger Don't Care

      “It is better to be a good godless person than an evil one who falsely professes to be pious.”

      Yet according to Christian dogma that good person who doesn’t believe will still be tortured forever.


      July 2, 2013 at 4:06 pm |
    • mike

      You don't have to believe in God to get to Heaven because he believes in you!

      July 2, 2013 at 5:55 pm |
  18. Badly-Bent

    Does it really matter if he was beheaded or shot? What makes this crime so heinous is murdering someone because they are Christian.

    July 2, 2013 at 3:48 pm |
    • ME II

      I think the point of the article is that the claims that the video shows the friar being beheaded are false.

      July 2, 2013 at 3:54 pm |
  19. ART

    What Catholic websites with incorrect information, that must be an error lord knows they have all been so forthcoming with the truth on all the children that have been molested by their priest

    July 2, 2013 at 3:14 pm |
  20. William Demuth

    Uniting the world around one religion.

    That would solve the problem for about thirty seconds!

    Then we would divide the fools in the faith between the parasites that demand to be in charge

    Each religion biodegrades into a few lesser faiths, with more ridiculous adherents.

    Judaism mutated into so many permutations it isn't even funny anymore!

    One nut called Abraham created so much misery with his madness! Its a shame he wasn't stoned to death by his parents.

    July 2, 2013 at 2:54 pm |
    • Honey Badger Don't Care

      Oh, for a time machine so that I could go back to those barbaric times and create a religion based on science. I would call it “Scientology”.

      July 2, 2013 at 4:08 pm |
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About this blog

The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.