MUSLIM leaders have
joined prominent Christians around the world in demanding the
release of two Syrian archbishops who were kidnapped in Syria last
News, 26 April).
The Syrian Oriental
Orthodox Archbishop of Aleppo, Mar Yohanna Ibrahim, and the Greek
Orthodox Archbishop of Aleppo, the Most Revd Paul Yazigi, were
seized by gunmen in northern Syria while on their way back to their
home city from the Turkish border. Their driver was killed.
Reports on Wednesday of
last week that the two churchmen had been freed turned out to be
incorrect. The Greek Melkite Archbishop of Aleppo, Mgr Jean Clement
Jeanbart, told the Roman Catholic Asia News agency: "At present, no
one understands the reasons for this act and who is behind these
The secretary-general of
the Organization of Islamic Co-operation, Ekmeleddin Ihsanoğlhe,
last weekend called for the "immediate and unconditional release"
of the two archbishops, because their seizure "contradicts the
principles of true Islam, and the status held for Christian
clergymen in Islam".
Shortly after the
kidnapping, the Archbishop of Canterbury and the RC Archbishop of
Westminster, the Most Revd Vincent Nichols, said in a joint
statement that the kidnapping of the two churchmen was "another
telling sign of the terrible circumstances that continue to engulf
all Syrians. We unreservedly support these Christian communities,
rooted in and attached to the biblical lands, despite the many
The Bishop of Warwick,
the Rt Revd John Stroyan, who has met the two Syrian archbishops in
the past, urged people to pray for their release and for the end of
the conflict in a way that would "honour Christians and other
minorities in the country".
Special services have
been held in churches throughout Syria for the missing archbishops.
Elsewhere, leaders of the Greek Orthodox and Russian Orthodox
Churches have urged international politicians to do whatever they
can to free the churchmen. Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and All
Russia contacted the Russian President, Vladimir Putin, to ask for
As the search for the
kidnapped men continues, violence in Syria is intensifying. Four
people died on Monday, when mortar-rounds hit a Christian area of
Aleppo, prompting Archbishop Jeanbart to say: "The situation in the
city is terrible. No one is safe."
Large bombs have also
exploded in Damascus. One narrowly missed its intended target, the
Prime Minister, Wael al-Halqi. The erosion of central government
authority and the breakdown in security are forcing thousands more
to seek shelter in neighbouring countries.
The arrival of so many
refugees is putting the resources of these countries under intense
strain. The economy of Jordan was struggling before the Syrian
crisis began, but it is having to cope with at least half a million
homeless Syrians. On Monday alone this week, 1800 more crossed the
border into Jordan. Providing shelter, food, and water is becoming
increasingly difficult, in a country where so much, including
nearly all food, oil, and gas, has to be imported.
Anglicans in Jordan are
working through the Middle East Council of Churches to help
refugees. The Pastor to the Arabic-speaking congregation at the
Redeemer Church, Amman, the Revd Fadi Diab, said that Anglicans had
been "making financial donations and sending food and clothing for
refugees sheltering in the Zaatari camp in the north of the
An increasing number of
Christians are among the Syrians seeking shelter abroad, an issue
raised in the House of Lords last week by the Bishop of Exeter, the
Rt Revd Michael Langrish.
He said that the
Christian element of the Syrian population had "fallen dramatically
to around ten per cent, and Christians are continuing to
haemorrhage from the area under the perceived threat of militant
Islam. The spread of jihadist groups within the Syrian opposition
and the growth of the mantra that 'Islam is the solution' are only
exacerbating this flight."
Bishop Langrish said that
one estimate suggested that some 90 per cent of the 150,000-strong
Christian community of Homs had moved to Jordan. "Where Christians
do remain, once-cohesive communities, marked by peaceful
co-existence and co-operation, are beginning to fragment, as those
of different religious traditions increasingly draw apart." Syria,
he concluded, looked as if it was following Iraq down the route of
Bishop Langrish asked
Baroness Northover, a government spokeswoman in the House of Lords,
if she had a message for the fleeing Christians, who were
contemplating a Middle East in which they might no longer be secure
Lady Northover agreed
that the system for dealing with refugees in the Middle East as a
whole was near breaking-point, and that several states, including
Jordan, Lebanon, Iraq, and Egypt, were straining to cope. "As
numbers increase," she concluded, "so, too, does the need for the
international community to respond".
Question of the
Week: Is it time for other countries to
intervene militarily in Syria?