Two prominent Syrian bishops were kidnapped on Monday by armed rebels in the northern province of Aleppo, according to a Vatican Radio report. The Syriac Orthodox and Greek Orthodox Archbishops of Aleppo, Yohanna Ibrahim and Paul Yazigi, were seized in the village of Kfar Dael, on the road to Aleppo from the rebel-held Bab al Hawa crossing with Turkey. The bishops were abducted en route to Aleppo from a town on the Turkish border where they were carrying out humanitarian work. Their driver was killed.
The two bishops are the most senior church leaders caught up in the conflict, which has killed more than 70,000 people across Syria.
The Rome based St. Egidio Community is holding a prayer vigil on Tuesday evening in Rome, dedicated to the two Syrian Orthodox bishops.
A statement issued by the Director of the Vatican Press Office today said Pope Francis is following the events closely and is praying for the health and the liberation of the two kidnapped bishops. Vatican spokesperson Federico Lombardi, S.J., said, “He is also praying so that, with the support and prayers of all, the Syrian people may finally see tangible responses to the humanitarian drama and real hopes of peace and reconciliation may rise on the horizon.”
Mario Giro, Head of the International Department of the Community of St. Egidio, said the abducted bishops are close friends of the St. Egidio Community and were habitual participants in its inter-religious meetings. Speaking of the Community’s involvement in the Syrian crisis, Giro says “we are bringing humanitarian aid through the church network – it is very difficult to intervene directly in Syria – and for months we have been involved on one hand trying to find a political solution, and on the other providing humanitarian aid, not only to Christians of course, but using the networks of the churches that are the only real networks that you can activate with difficulty in this particular moment. The two bishops were in fact distributing humanitarian aid. The situation of the Christians is very difficult in Syria and many of them are refugees. We are also helping them in Lebanon where many have sought refuge.”
In September of last year, hundreds of Christian families fled Aleppo as rebels and soldiers battled for control of the city, which is the country's largest. At the time, Bishop Ibrahim said, “In its modern history Aleppo has not seen such critical and painful times,” adding, “Christians have been attacked and kidnapped in monstrous ways.” Christians make up less than 10 percent of the country's 23 million people.
As fighting continues, thousands of people continue to flee Syria each week. Estimates say that nearly half of them are children. An emergency communications manager for Save the Children, Hedinn Halldorsson recently returned from a visit to camps in Jordan and Lebanon. “This is a complex regional crisis that now has entered its third year,” Haldorsson said, calling the crisis, “one of the biggest our teams have seen for years.”