Aleppo, Syria, May 23, 2013 / 13:55 pm
Orthodox and Catholic Christians in the Middle East gathered this week to pray for and appeal for the realease of two Orthodox bishops who were kidnapped in Syria one month ago.
"We renew our request for the abductees to...release the two Archbishops without hurting their health or physical situation; and release all other abducted priests and innocent civilians," the Syriac and Greek Orthodox archdioceses of Aleppo said May 22.
"We trust that the mercy of the one God whom we all believe in, will guide the abductees and induce them to release the Archbishops without any pre-conditions, because there is no price equals the freedom of the two Archbishops, and no condition equals their safe return to their communities and churches."
Just over a month ago, on April 22, Archbishop John Ibrahim of the Syriac Orthodox Church and Archbishop Paul Yagizi of the Greek Orthodox Church were kidnapped by armed men who killed their driver, Deacon Fatha' Allah Kabboud.
The bishops were abducted on their way back from the Turkish border, where they were negotiating the release of two priests, Fathers Michael Kayyal and Maher Mahfouz, who had themselves been kidnapped Feb. 9.
Last weekend, Christians in Aleppo gathered for an ecumenical prayer service at the city's Greek Orthodox cathedral. It was attended by Bishop Antoine Audo, the Chaldean Catholic bishop of the Aleppo eparchy.
He told Vatican Radio that it was a "sad" occasion, those attending having "tears in their eyes." He said the situation has been confusing, as the kidnappers have made no ransom demands for their release, and added that "it's not a question of money."
The Greek Orthodox in Damascus gathered May 20 to pray for Bishops Ibrahim and Yagizi, and Patriarch John X met May 22 with Eva Felipi, the Czech ambassador to Syria. They discussed the grievous Syrian civil war and the need for the return of the bishops, as well as all others kidnapped in the country.
In neighboring Jordan, some 2,000 Christians participated in a candlelight procession from a Greek Orthodox church to a Syriac Orthodox church in the capital, Amman.
Archbishop Maroun Lahham, an auxiliary bishop of the Jerusalem patriarchate, prayed at the procession for "tranquility and stability in beloved Syria" and for the release of the bishops, whom he called "two of the most significant Arab Christian personalities of our time."
He told Fides after the prayers that "we prayed so that Jordan is not plagued by conflicts that are causing suffering to the peoples of neighboring countries."
Two weeks ago, Syrian refugees already represented 10 percent of the Jordanian population. The nation's foreign minister said it could reach 25 percent by the end of the year. The flood of refugees are straining resources in the area.
The situation is so desperate that some refugee families are arranging marriages for their teenage daughters, or selling them, to older men so that they might have stability and escape the unsanitary conditions of the refugee camps.
The Syrian civil war has dragged on for 26 months. The United Nations estimates that 80,000 have died in the conflict. There are 1.5 million Syrian refugees in nearby countries, most of them in Jordan and Lebanon.
An additional 4.25 million Syrian people are believed to have been internally displaced by the war.
The Syriac and Greek Orthodox of Aleppo added that they are daily "living the nightmare" of lacking their abducted shepherds.
"We...express day after day our sadness and increasing pain about the abduction and the absence of these two eminent Prelates, and what they represent in terms of their holiness, their local and international rank, their active role on all levels including the spiritual, the thoughts, the academic, the education and the social (spheres)."
"But above all," the archdioceses noted, "the humanitarian work which they were carrying within the current crisis which is engulfing our country Syria."