Kidnapped bishops: An eerie silence

By John Pontifex
FEARS are growing for two Syrian archbishops – with still no news about them a week on from their abduction.
And one of the two prelates – Syrian Orthodox Archbishop Yohanna Ibrahim – faces a “life-threatening problem” if prevented from taking medicine for high blood pressure and diabetes.
He did not have any medication with him when he and Greek Orthodox Archbishop Boulos Yagizi were kidnapped on Monday, 22nd April.
Their driver, Deacon Fatha’ Allah Kabboud, was killed.
The incident took place 8km west of Aleppo, the city to which they were returning after travelling to the Turkish border to negotiate the release of two priests – Fathers Michael Kayyal and Maher Mahfouz – kidnapped on 9th February.
Since the two archbishops’ abduction, there have been conflicting reports – with one (subsequently withdrawn) even claiming that they had been released.
But in an interview with Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need, an official spokesman for the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of Aleppo said that no contact had been made with either the prelates or the kidnappers.
He said this lack of information was unprecedented at a time when abductions of Christians in the region had risen dramatically.
Speaking from Syria today (Monday, 29th April), the spokesman, who asked not to be named for safety reasons, said: “We still do not know where the two archbishops are or who has taken them.
“There are many Christians being kidnapped now and this is the first time where we have absolutely no clue about what has happened, where nobody has taken responsibility for the abduction.”
“This is of course very worrying – especially as we are now on day eight since [the kidnapping] happened.”
Referring to Archbishop Ibrahim’s poor health, he said: “It is a life-threatening problem if he does not receive his medicine.”
The diocesan spokesman said that Church leaders were combating pressure from the distressed and frightened Christian community who, he said, were calling for demonstrations to appeal for the archbishops’ release, a move which he said could antagonise the kidnappers.
Saying that services and prayer vigils were taking place including one broadcast on Syrian TV, he added: “The Christians are worried and want to express their anger about what has happened.
“But every step should be carefully studied – we have to think about what the response will be from the kidnappers.”
He went on to appeal for continuing international pressure for the archbishops’ release.
Stressing the prelates’ high status, he said he was hopeful that diplomatic intervention would prove effective.
The spokesman said: “So far, the international community have done very well in putting pressure. We do not want that pressure to subside – government, civil society, churches and NGOs – different levels of help might help.”
He called on Christians “and all people of goodwill” to pray for the archbishops’ release.
“What is so sad about this is that both men were among those working hardest for peace and yet in this time of conflict they are among those paying the highest price.”

Editor’s Notes

Directly under the Holy See, Aid to the Church in Need supports the faithful wherever they are persecuted, oppressed or in pastoral need. ACN is a Catholic charity – helping to bring Christ to the world through prayer, information and action.

Founded in 1947 by Fr Werenfried van Straaten, whom Blessed John Paul II named “An outstanding Apostle of Charity”, the organisation is now at work in about 130 countries throughout the world.

The charity undertakes thousands of projects every year including providing transport for clergy and lay Church workers, construction of church buildings, funding for priests and nuns and help to train seminarians. Since the initiative’s launch in 1979, Aid to the Church in Need’s Child’s Bible – God Speaks to his Children has been translated into 172 languages and more than 50 million copies have been distributed all over the world.
Aid to the Church in Need UK is a registered charity in England and Wales (1097984) and Scotland (SC040748). ACN’s UK office is in Sutton, Surrey and there is a Scottish office in Motherwell, near Glasgow.

While ACN gives full permission for the media to freely make use of the charity’s press releases, please acknowledge ACN as the source of stories when using the material.

For more information, contact John Pontifex, ACN UK Head of Press and Information 020 8661 5161 or John Newton, ACN Press Officer, 020 8661 5167.