A communiqué came across my desk that you should know about. As I have reported in other blogs, there is an on-going tension between Islam, Jews, and Christians that has been exacerbated in recent years when the extremist wing of Islam became a terrorist force in the Middle East. Previously Christians, Jews, and Muslims lived side-by-side with little tension. Unfortunately, this reality has shifted and war escalates the problem. Here’s the problem you should know about.
On April 22, Bishop Yohanna Ibrahim, head of the Syrian Orthodox Church in Aleppo and Bishop Boulos Yaziji from the Greek Orthodox Church were kidnapped. They had travelled to the Turkish border to negotiate the release of two priests that had been kidnapped in February. The driver of their car was later killed, leaving behind a wife and two children. The tragic situation created intense alarm.
Since their captive, nothing has been heard of from these two important leaders. During this time, efforts have been made at all levels to obtain their release. The Council of Catholic Patriarchs of the East released a communiqué requesting all members of their churches to pray for the release of these men. Because the Eastern Orthodox Churches operate on a different calendar from the West, they are just now approaching their Palm Sunday and Easter season. The communiqué will be read in all of their churches and prayers offered for the return of Patriarchs John X and Ignatius Zakka Iwas I.
The civil war in Syria has fundamentally been between Sunnis, Shei’ites and Alawaits. However, from the days of Bashar’s father the Assad regime has protected minorities that include Christians. Consequently, the Christian community has tended to support the Assads. Possible, this history has come back to haunt these two significant church leaders if captured by Muslim rebels.
Of course, holding people who are considered opposition for ransom is an old story. However, capturing church officials of such high rank is an exception. Possibly, some small rebel unit that has not been that significant could be behind the capture. Such a possibility could make this abduction even more dangerous.
The bishops are hoping that Syrian Christians will not see this incident as an incentive to leave the country, but I am sure it will have exactly that effect. Please join with me in praying for these two leaders and their people.
As General Sherman observed during the American Civil War, war is hell.