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Updated: Two Syrian Archbishops kidnapped; still held

May 24, 2013

Update (May 2013): The Archbishops and Heads of Churches in Jerusalem issue an appeal on the kidnapping of the two Archbishops:

We, the Heads of Churches in Jerusalem, have been prayerfully following the ongoing violence, bloodshed, and conflict in Syria, which started in March 2011. Everyday tens or sometimes hundreds of people are killed because of the current conflict, and thousands are left without homes or shelters as they keep moving aimlessly in search of security, food and treatment.

A couple of weeks ago, two of our own Metropolitan bishops of Aleppo, Mar Gregorios Ibrahim of the Syriac Orthodox Church and Paul Yazigi of the Greek Orthodox Church of Antioch were kidnapped, and their driver was murdered, while they were delivering some humanitarian aid to some displaced families in the region. This horrific act of kidnapping two senior clergymen is yet another sign of the tragic situation in Syria, and an extremely dangerous and new phenomenon in our region.

Our hearts and minds go out to all the people of Syria, particularly our Christian communities and their spiritual leaders, who undergo suffering and violence and ill-treatment. And we call upon all people who are involved in the conflict to seek after peace and stability for the sake of all Syrians, and to end this cycle of violence and bloodshed. We also urge for the immediate release of Bishops Ibrahim and Yazigi and their safe return to their Churches and their faithful people.

We also join our voices with our sister Churches in Syria and call upon our ancient Christian communities to remain steadfast in their faith and hope, and we pray with them and for them at this time of turmoil and chaos for their safety and continuous presence and witness. As St. Paul writes to the Romans: “For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:38-39)

The Heads of Churches of Jerusalem

+Patriarch Theophilos III, Greek Orthodox Patriarchate
+Patriarch Fouad Twal, Latin Patriarchate
+Patriarch Norhan Manougian, Armenian Apostolic Orthodox Patriarchate
+Fr. Pierbattista Pizzaballa, ofm, Custos of the Holy Land
+Archbishop Anba Abraham, Coptic Orthodox Patriarchate, Jerusalem
+Archbishop Swerios Malki Murad, Syrian Orthodox Patriarchate
+Aba Fissiha Tsion, Locum Tenens of the Ethiopian Orthodox Patriarchate
+Archbishop Joseph-Jules Zerey, Greek-Melkite-Catholic Patriarchate
+Archbishop Moussa El-Hage, Maronite Patriarchal Exarchate
+Bishop Suheil Dawani, Episcopal Church of Jerusalem and the Middle East
+Bishop Munib Younan, Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land
+Bishop Pierre Melki, Syrian Catholic Patriarchal Exarchate
+Msgr. Joseph Antoine Kelekian, Armenian Catholic Patriarchal Exarchate

Update (May 24): One month after the kidnapping of Archbishop Mar Yohanna Gregorios Ibrahim and Archbishop Paul Yazigi, they remain held with no information on their condition, or on the captors.  They remain in need of prayer.

Update (May 17): Religions for Peace Secretary General, Dr. William F. Vendley, shares of Muslim efforts to seek the release of Archbishop Mar Yohanna Gregorios Ibrahim and Archbishop Paul Yazigi:

You will recall that RfP made an appeal for prayers for the two Bishops and for all suffering Syrians—each to pray according to their own religious tradition—on 23 April, the day after they were kidnapped. As I write, the two Bishops have remained in captivity for 25 days, and the anguish of so many Syrians continues to deepen.

You will not be surprised to know that there has been a deeply heartening response to the RfP call for prayers. RfP affiliates and very large numbers of people have signaled their solidarity in prayer.

What you may not know is that Islamic organizations and leaders around the world have been exceptionally engaged in calling for the release of the Bishops. This includes major organizations like the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, the Arab League, individual Islamic states; major Islamic organizations like the Muslim World Leagues and the Islamic Society of North America (to name only two of many); inter-religious organizations that have been initiated by Islamic patrons like the King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz International Inter-religious Dialogue Center and the Doha International Center for Interfaith Dialogue, and outstanding personalities, including RfP Islamic leaders like HRH Prince El Hassan bin Talal and Sheikh Nasser Al-Mutawa Al-Otaibi

The Bishops would be heartened to know of the remarkable and far-reaching solidarity of their very many beloved Islamic and other religious friends. It is this kind of solidarity across our religious traditions that can help to build the trust that is so essential for peace.

The Bishops need our continuing support—as do all suffering Syrians. Permit me, then, to appeal to you yet again to hold fast in keeping the Bishops and all who are suffering in Syria in your prayers.

Your sending a very short note of solidarity would be appreciated.

It is our ability to act in solidarity with one another during difficult situations that expresses so powerfully our “unity of care," which honors our respective religious differences.

Please join your fellow RfP colleagues by continuing to pray for the two Bishops and all Syrians.

Update (May 9): Archbishop Mar Yohanna Gregorios Ibrahim and Archbishop Paul Yazigi remain held, as Orthodox Christians in the Middle East and around the world marked Easter this past Sunday.  Members of the Syriac Orthodox and Greek Orthodox communities gathered to offer prayers for their archbishops' safety and release, NPR reported this week.  It was also reported yesterday that the archbishops are in good health, even as church leaders continue to seek their freedom.

Update (April 29): Ecumenical community offers prayer for missing archbishops (World Council of Churches)

Two Christian bishops from Aleppo, Syria, were supported in prayer at a special service in the chapel of the World Council of Churches' Ecumenical Centre in Geneva on Thursday, 25 April.  The two archbishops reportedly were kidnapped, and a deacon driving them was killed, while they were undertaking a joint humanitarian mission near the Turkish border north of Aleppo on Monday, 22 April.  The two abducted church leaders are the Syriac Orthodox archbishop of Aleppo, Yohanna Ibrahim, and the Greek Orthodox archbishop of Aleppo, Paul Yazigi. The murdered driver has been identified as Fatha’ Allah Kabboud, a deacon in the Syriac Orthodox Church.  The Syrian government and anti-government rebels have accused one another of these crimes, but no group has claimed responsibility.  The prayer service in Geneva was led by Romanian and Russian Orthodox priests and introduced by Yorgo Lemopoulos, deputy general secretary of the World Council of Churches.  The congregation was made up of persons representing a wide variety of nationalities, churches and Geneva-based organizations.  In addition to prayers for the archbishops and their flocks, intercessions were offered for “the liberation of all clergy and people who are held captive in Syria and in other parts of the world.”  A chanted Aramaic refrain used throughout the service, “Moran ethra hama’lain” – “Lord, have mercy upon us”  –  was sung in a version attributed to Archbishop Yohanna Ibrahim.

The Middle East Council of Churches' Acting General Secretary, Fr. Michel Jalakh, issued this statement on April 26:

The Middle East Council of Churches condemns the kidnapping, in Aleppo, of  bishop Boulos Yaziji, the Greek Orthodox Metropolitan of Aleppo, Iskandaron and dependencies, and bishop Yohanna Ibrahim, the Syriac Orthodox  Metropolitan of Aleppo.

The Council condemns and denounces the acts of violence, kidnapping, killing, displacement and all forms of human dignity violations irrespective of the identity of the perpetuators or the justifications. The Council affirms to the Syrian people of all categories and denominations, the compassion of the Christians of the East and of the world with their agony. MECC reiterates the firm position of the Churches since the start of the Syrian crisis that renouncing to violence and embracing dialogue are the only ways to resolve problems.

Now that twenty four hours have passed and the two esteemed bishops were not released, the Council calls upon all concerned Head of States and politicians to put an end to the Syrian tragedy and urges all people of good will to work and mediate for the release of bishops Yazigi and Ibrahim who were two pillars of Muslim-Christian dialogue in Syria and the region, and two advocates of peace and coexistence. These values provide the only way out of the current crisis in Syria.

The National Council of Churches of Christ in the USA has issued a statement, "expressing dismay over the kidnappings."

Update (April 24): According to reports, Archbishop Mar Yohanna Gregorios Ibrahim and Archbishop Paul Yazigi have been released.  From several church partners close to the situation, though, such reports are false.  Both church leaders remain kidnapped.  We continue to pray for their safe release, for all those affected by the two-year-old conflict, and for the peaceful end of the conflict in Syria.

The Syrian Orthodox and Greek Orthodox Patriarchs have issued a joint communiqué on the matter.  The World Council of Churches provided this context:

As the uncertainty about the whereabouts of two Syrian church leaders kidnapped in Syria on Monday continued Wednesday, the patriarchs of the Greek Orthodox and Syriac Orthodox churches have issued a joint communique calling on churches around the world to “stand fast in the face of what is going on and witness to their faith in the power of love in this world.”

On Monday, 23 April, Greek Orthodox Archbishop Paul Yazigi of Aleppo and Alexandretta and Syriac Orthodox Archbishop Yohanna Ibrahim of Aleppo were kidnapped en route to Aleppo by unknown assailants after returning from a humanitarian mission near the Turkish border region.  Their driver, Fatha’ Allah Kabboud, a deacon in the Syriac Orthodox Church, was killed in the incident.

The communique from Patriarch Jhon X Yazigi of the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Antioch and all the East and Patriarch Mar Ignatius Zakka I Iwas, of the Syriac Orthodox Patriarchate of Antioch and all the East, expressed surprise and deep regret over the situation.  Both churches are members of the World Council of Churches (WCC).

The patriarchs called on the kidnappers to “respect the life of the two kidnapped brothers as well as everyone to put an end to all the acts that create confessional and sectarian schisms among the sons of the one country.”

To the churches around the world, the communiqué said, “It is necessary to take steps that reflect their refusal to all kinds of violence hitting the human beings living in the East.”

Late Tuesday evening news reports said the two Syrian archbishops had been released, but by mid-day Wednesday it was clear through WCC contact with the churches that in fact their release remained uncertain.

To read the full communiqué, click here.

In addition, the World Communion of Reformed Churches has issued this appeal:

Call For Prayer

Since the beginning of the crisis in Syria, the World Communion of Reformed Churches has been very concerned about what the people of Syria have been going through. The loss of lives and the destruction have often brought us to tears.  We continue to pray that the God will lead the people of Syria to justice and peace with a government that will have the well being of the people at heart. 

Last night, we received a rather distressing letter which has led me to issue this call for the WCRC family to pray along with our sisters and brothers in Syria.  The letter is below:

I am sorry to inform you that Bishop Yohanna Ibrahim of the Syrian Orthodox Archdiocese of Aleppo was kidnapped this afternoon on his way back to Aleppo from the Turkish borders. He went there to bring back with him Bishop Boulos Yazaji of the Greek Orthodox of Aleppo. The news which we have received is that an armed group from (Chichan) stopped the car and kidnapped the two bishops while the driver was killed. We are working and doing our best for the release of the two Bishops and return safely. So far we are unable to connect with them or with their kidnappers. 

Please circulate this message as wide as you can. We need pressures of all churches in the world and embassies around the world for their release. The Bishop was doing a humanitarian mission to release two priests who were kidnapped months ago. 

Please do your best in this critical issue and also we need the prayers of all faithful around the world for their safety.

Yours in Christ

I have known Bishop Yohanna Ibrahim since the for about thirty years now (since the 1980s) and so feel personally touched by this incident.

Let us pray for these two church leaders that they will be released safely, and for the family of the driver who was killed.  Let us pray for the people of Syria. 

We also attach the appeal made by representatives of Middle East Churches in the recent Global Christian Forum meeting held in Amman, Jordan, two weeks ago.

Thank you very much.
Setri Nyomi (Rev. Dr.)
WCRC General Secretary

Original posting follows (4/23/2013):

Two Syrian Archbishops are reported kidnapped in Syria.  Archbishop Mar Yohanna Gregorios Ibrahim from the Syriac Orthodox Church and Archbishop Paul Yazigi from the Greek Orthodox Church are leaders in churches with which Global Ministries of the United Church of Christ and Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) work as ecumenical partners.  They are both actively engaged in providing humanitarian response to the crisis in Syria.  For background, click on the following: "Rebels kidnap two Aleppo bishops" and "Syria opposition chief 'seeking release of bishops'"

In response, the following statements from partners have been issued:

From the Arab Group for Muslim-Christian Dialogue and the Forum for Development, Culture, and Dialogue:

The Arab Group for Muslim–Christian Dialogue and the Forum for Development, Culture, and Dialogue deplore the kidnapping of the distinguished Archbishops John Ibrahim Metropolitan of Aleppo for the Syrian Orthodox Church and Paul Yazigi Metropolitan of Aleppo for the Greek Orthodox Church. The AGMCD and FDCD strongly condemn this heinous act that has become a precedent in the Syrian crisis.

Adding to the risk of this most recent act, the distinguished Archbishops are two of the pillars of Muslim–Christian dialogue in our region and are main figures of co-existence, mutual respect, mutual understanding, and solidarity.

We, with great appeal, ask the religious and civil leaders, locally, regionally, and globally to intervene quickly and forcefully to bring about the release of these two respected Archbishops, so they may return to their parish and continue to follow their holy mission.

Rev. Dr. Riad Jarjour
General Secretary, Arab Group for Muslim-Christian Dialogue
President, Forum for Development, Culture, and Dialogue

From the World Council of Churches:

The World Council of Churches (WCC) general secretary, Rev. Dr Olav Fykse Tveit, has strongly condemned the abduction of two Syrian archbishops who were kidnapped yesterday near Aleppo in Syria.

“We join with several heads of our member churches and together with them condemn this outrageous violation of human rights and ask for the immediate release of the two archbishops.  Such events are a threat to all religious communities,” Tveit said from Khartoum, Sudan where he is visiting today.

“Archbishop Ibrahim and Archbishop Yazigi are prominent leaders in the Syrian society,” he said. “Through their commitment in various local, national and global initiatives they are well known as actors for peace and justice not only for the Christians of Syria but for all the Syrian people.”

In his statement Tveit has called upon the international community to work for the release of both archbishops.

“Together, we pray to God for the safety and security of God’s servants and all people of Syria. May God bring peace to Syria and to all the communities that are struggling for justice, peace and human dignity,” Tveit said in his statement.

Read the full statement

Please join in prayer for their prompt and safe release.



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