CATHOLIC NEWS OF THE WEEK . Saturday, 25 May 2019

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Church leaders in Syria kidnapped

VATICAN CITY (Agencies): Two Syrian archbishops, Syriac Orthodox Metropolitan Gregorios Yohanna, and Greek Orthodox Metropolitan Paul, both from Aleppo, were kidnapped on April 22 in the northern part of the country. 

CNS reported that the Syriac Orthodox and Greek Orthodox patriarchates of Antioch said in a statement that the archbishops were on a humanitarian mission, a mission of “love that is the foundation and principle” of the way Christians have participated in Syrian life for centuries. 

On April 25, AsiaNews quoted Bishop Jean-Clement Jeanbart, the Greek-Melkite archbishop of Aleppo, as saying, “Archbishop Ibrahim and Metropolitan Boulos al-Yaziji were still in the hands of their kidnappers up until the evening of April 25. Reports of their release yesterday afternoon were false.”

He emphasised that the negotiations with the kidnappers are in progress, pointing out that at the moment nothing is known about their eventual release. 

Bishop Antoine Audo sj, the Catholic Chaldean bishop of Aleppo, told Fides that money, not religion, is behind the kidnapping.

“These same Islamic groups are not sincere. They are fanatics who use religion and have the sole purpose of making money,” he said.

He recalled that a Father Hasan, who was kidnapped previously by the same group, was released after 11 days when relatives raised US$100,000 ($774,500) ransom money.

Bishop Audo said that when the priest apologised for any harm he may have done, the leader of the group began to blaspheme Allah.

Vatican spokesperson, Father Federico Lombardi, said the kidnapping of the archbishops, along with the reported killing of their driver was “a dramatic confirmation of the tragic situation in which the Syrian population and its Christian communities are living.” 

Speaking at the end of his general audience on April 24, Pope Francis said the kidnappings were “another sign of the tragic situation the dear Syrian nation is living through with violence and weapons continuing to sow death and suffering.”

The pope said, “While I keep the two bishops in my prayers so that they would return quickly to their communities, I ask God to enlighten hearts.”

He renewed the appeal he made at Easter that the bloodshed in Syria would end, that humanitarian aid would reach the Syrian people and that a political solution to the crisis would be found. 

In their statement, the patriarchates said that Syrian Christians “suffer with every person who suffers” and added, “The Christians of the Middle East are deeply pained by all the violence their countries face, violence that creates division” among peoples. 

They appealed to all Syrians—including Sunni, Shiite and Alawite Muslims—to work together “to demonstrate that we refuse to consider the human person a product to be bought or sold, a useful shield during war or a piece of political or financial merchandise.” 

CWNews.com reported that the possible involvement of rebels supported by the government of the United States of America (US) has spurred new calls for an emphasis on religious freedom in US society.

“US foreign policy with respect to religious freedom consists almost entirely, when it consists of anything, of rhetorical condemnations of acts such as this,” Thomas Farr, a former State Department official, said.

He called for active steps to promote religious freedom in US policy.

On April 26, Mary Ann Glendon, who is also a member of the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences, said that she and two other commissioners from the US Commission on International Religious Freedom are calling on the administration of Barack Obama to highlight religious freedom in its dealings with both government and rebel forces in Syria.

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