Fr. Jacques Mourad was set free on Saturday, 10 Oct, nearly five months after masked Islamic State (IS) gunmen kidnapped the Syriac Catholic priest in Syria’s central Homs province.

Church sources told Agence France Presse that Fr. Mourad celebrated Sunday mass the following day in Zaydal village, five kilometers from Homs city.

“He is said to be in good health,” Vatican Radio reported. No explanation has been given for the circumstances of his release.

A member of the monastic Mar Moussa El-Babashi community for 15 years, Fr. Mourad had become prior of the Mar Elian Monastery on the outskirts of Qaryatain after the July 2013 kidnapping of his still missing predecessor, Italian Jesuit priest Paolo Dall’Oglio.

Although other Islamist rebel groups in Syria have released kidnapped clerics, it is the first time that IS has set free a Christian clergyman.

Mourad’s abduction on 21 May came just as IS militants seized the nearby city of Palmyra. When the jihadists swept on, in August, to oust the Syrian army from Qaryatain, they captured at least 60 Christians taking refuge in the Mar Elian Monastery. Two weeks later, IS demolished the 5th century pilgrimage site with bulldozers.

Two indications that Fr. Mourad was still alive came in short undated videos released in late August. In one clip filmed in a conference room in Qaryatain, Fr. Mourad is seen sitting among some 50 Christian men being ordered to sign a pledge to submit to their captors’ demands of subservience to Muslim rule. In a second video broadcast over the Lebanese Christian network of Noursat TV, Fr. Mourad spoke directly into the camera, stating he was in good health.