Aleppo (AsiaNews) - From Pope Francis to the Orthodox Patriarchate in Moscow, the Catholic and Orthodox Churches are praying for bishops Youhanna Ibrahim (Syriac Orthodox) and Boulos al-Yaziji (Greek Orthodox) who were abducted yesterday afternoon in Aleppo. Both Churches have launched an appeal for their release. In a statement, the pope said, he was "following the events with deep participation and [. . .] is praying for the health and the liberation of the two kidnapped bishops."
The kidnapping of Mgrs Ibrahim and Boulos al-Yaziji has shaken the Christian community in Aleppo, battered for months by the fighting between the army and rebels. Interviewed by AsiaNews, Greek-Melkite Archbishop Mgr Jean-Clement Jeanbart has called on "Christians around the world to pray for peace in Syria, for the liberation of the two Orthodox bishops and that of Fr Michel Kayyal and Fr Maher Mahfouz, who were abducted in February and are still in the hands of the kidnappers."
Archbishop Jeanbart said that the whole Christian community, Catholic and Orthodox, is saddened by what happened to the two prelates on the day the Church celebrates Saint George, patron saint of Syria.
"What makes our suffering even worse," the bishop said, "is the indifference of the West, which continues to be blind. Western leaders are unable or unwilling to understand the situation in Syria, that the war between rebels and the army could see the area overrun by jihadists and criminals from every nation who have nothing to do with the Syrian people."
The Greek-Melkite bishop explains that according to the latest information, the kidnapping of Archbishop Youhanna Ibrahim, Syriac Orthodox bishop of Aleppo, and Mgr Boulos al-Yaziji, Greek-Orthodox archbishop of Aleppo and Iskenderun, took place at around 5 pm (local time) in the area of Kafr Dael, a rebel-controlled area ten km from the city. The armed men who stopped the two prelates, included foreigners who did not speak Arabic, witnesses said.
"Unfortunately, the information is not entirely reliable," Mgr Jeanbart explained. "However, everything is being done to free them." A Mass and a prayer vigil are planned for tomorrow in all of the churches in Aleppo, with thousands of people expected.
"We want to give people hope," he said. "The Church has been entrusted to us pastors. At a difficult and tragic time, it is our duty to do everything possible to hold it together and bear witnesses to Christ's love."
"We ask European nations and all Western countries to look seriously at the problems of Syria," the prelate explained. "Foreign governments and parties to the conflict must work for a peaceful solution to the war, which is the only way we can save innocent people."
Vatican Press Office director Fr Federico Lombardi released a statement today about the kidnapping of the Orthodox bishops in Syria. In it, he said that Pope Francis shared the pain Aleppo's Christian community feels following the kidnapping of the two prelates.
Such an act "is a dramatic confirmation of the tragic situation in which the Syrian population and the Christian communities in Syria are living. The Holy Father has been informed of this recent, extremely grave act, which comes on top of the increasing violence of the past days and a humanitarian emergency of enormous proportions. Pope Francis is following the events with deep participation and he is praying for the health and the liberation of the two kidnapped bishops. 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 rise on the horizon."
The Moscow Patriarchate has called on the international community to take concrete steps to secure the release of two prelates.
"We are currently taking measures to establish their whereabouts in order to help them and secure their release from captivity as soon as possible," Metropolitan Hilarion of Volokolamsk, head of the Moscow Patriarchate Department for External Church Relations, told journalists on Tuesday.
This sad event comes as another reminder of the "need to stop the continuing bloodshed in Syria as soon as possible, as well as the fact that political dialogue, no matter how difficult it can be, is the sole way out of this situation," the metropolitan added. (S.C.)