MAALOULA, Syria, Dec. 4 (UPI) -- Pope Francis Wednesday called on everyone to pray for the release of a dozen nuns forcibly removed from a Greek Orthodox monastery in Syria.
"Now I would like to invite everyone to pray for the religious sisters of the Greek Orthodox monastery of Saint Tecla in [Maaloula], in Syria, who, two days ago, were taken away by force by armed men," Pope Francis said at the end of the General Audience. "Let us pray for these sisters, and for all those who have been kidnapped on account of the on-going conflict. Let us continue to pray and to work for peace."
The nuns were forcibly "evacuated" from their convent Monday following days of fighting between Syrian rebels and government troops in Maaloula, which has a sizable Christian population, Vatican Radio reported.
The fate of 12 nuns was unknown as each side blamed the other for their disappearance, the Los Angeles Times reported.
Free Syrian Army fighters, along with al-Nusra Front, an Islamic group linked to al-Qaida, fought government forces for several days before regaining control over much of Maaloula, witnesses said.
In a statement published by Syria's state-run media, the country's Greek Orthodox Patriarch John Yazigi called on "the human conscience and all people who have good intentions" to work for the release of the nuns.
In central Damascus Tuesday, a suicide bomber detonated his explosives at a military building, killing four people, state media and activists said.