April 26 | comments icon 0 COMMENTS     print icon print


Pope Francis prays for safety of two archbishops kidnapped in Syria

Pope Francis has offered ‘intense prayers’ for the safety of two Orthodox archbishops kidnapped in Syria and for peace in that troubled nation, a Vatican spokesman said.

Fr Federico Lombardi said the Pope was informed about the ‘new, very serious fact’ of the  kidnapping on Monday of Syriac Orthodox Metropolitan Gregorios Yohanna Ibrahim of Aleppo and Greek Orthodox Metropolitan Paul Yazigi of Aleppo, who were kidnapped in northern Syria while on a humanitarian mission.

The archbishops were kidnapped at gunpoint on Monday, as the two-year-old Syrian civil war reaches new heights of ferocity. Both the Syrian government and rebel groups blamed each other for the abduction of the two clerics. Local reports suggest the archbishops’ vehicle was waylaid in the countryside outside the town of Aleppo by armed men who shot their driver.

Several prominent Muslim religious leaders have been persecuted or killed since the Syrian conflict began, including the highest-ranking Sunni imam in the country in a bombing of his Damascus mosque last month. But until now the fighting had largely bypassed the clerical hierarchy of Syria’s Christian minority. The men are the most senior Church leaders caught up in the conflict, which has killed more than 70,000 people across Syria.

Archbishop Ibrahim had been supportive of President Bashar al Assad and had urged his followers not to abandon Syria, but he had recently turned critical of the government.

In a recent interview, the archbishop said that, perhaps, a third of Syria’s Christians had left the country and that he could not blame them, considering the ‘difficult circumstances in terms of security and the threats they face daily.’ Archbishop Yazigi is not known to be politically outspoken.

Last Wednesday Patriarch Gregory III Laham, Syria’s most senior Catholic leader, personally asked Pope Francis if the Vatican could become more involved in bringing peace to Syria.

Aid to the Church in Need, (ACN) a Catholic charity, which is prioritising emergency aid for Syrians fleeing the violence, has said it is receiving increasingly dire reports from clergys in the country, including that of a Greek Catholic priest Fr Hassan Tabara, who has gone missing from Damascus while visiting his mother.

The whereabouts of the archbishops, and the identity of their kidnappers, were unknown as the SCO went to press this week.

—This story ran in full in the April 26 print edition of the SCO


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