In memory of the bishops of Aleppo, an 'ecumenical day' for the disappeared

The initiative launched by the Middle East Council of Churches (Mecc) is scheduled for 24 April. An event linked to Metropolitans Yohanna Ibrahim and Boulos Yaziji, on the tenth anniversary of their kidnapping. During the seminar there will be testimonies of kidnapping victims and a final message from the patriarchs of the two communities.

Aleppo (AsiaNews) - The Churches of the Middle East are promoting an "Ecumenical Day for the Abducted and Forced Disappeared" to be held on 22 April each year to coincide with the tenth anniversary of the disappearance of the two Orthodox bishops of Aleppo in 2013.

The initiative, promoted by the Middle East Council of Churches (Mecc), will be presented on Monday. During the day, a seminar is planned under the patronage of Yohanna X, Greek Orthodox Patriarch of Antioch (brother of Metropolitan Boulos Yazigi and current president of the Mecc) and Mor Ignatius Aphrem II, Syrian Orthodox Patriarch of Antioch.

Since 22 April 2013, there has been no news of Mgr Yohanna Ibrahim, bishop of the Syrian Orthodox diocese, and Mgr Boulos Yaziji, archbishop of the Greek Orthodox diocese of Aleppo, who were kidnapped shortly before 6pm in the locality of Kafr Dael, about 10 km from Aleppo. Their fate has been shrouded in mystery for 10 years, like that of the Italian missionary Fr Paolo Dall'Oglio.

Abnormal kidnappings, which have not been followed by claims or negotiations for their release. According to witnesses, the two prelates were negotiating the release of priests Fr Michel Kayyal and Fr Maher Mahfouz, who had been kidnapped in February of the same year. When they reached a roadblock, the car was flanked by armed men, possibly Chechen jihadists, who shot and killed the deacon driver. Witnesses claimed that the group was composed of foreigners who did not speak Arabic. 

An episode that fits into the framework of the events that have marked the bloodiest phase of the Syrian conflict, with the presence of jihadist groups in the territory (including the Islamic State) to inflame the situation even more.

Hence the choice of the Churches of the Middle East to dedicate a day to them, united with those who have disappeared without trace in recent years, a frequent phenomenon in the region and, in particular, in Iraq where over a million people have disappeared in 50 years.

At the end of the commemorative seminar, the declaration proclaiming 22 April 'Ecumenical Day of the Abducted and Forced Disappeared' will be read out.

The seminar, in four parts focusing on different topics and issues, will begin with a joint communiqué issued by the Patriarchates of Antioch and All-Oriental for the Greek Orthodox and Syrian Orthodox Churches.

It will also include video testimonies of some kidnapping victims, insights into the rights of missing persons and will conclude with two messages from the patriarchs of the two communities to which the kidnapped bishops belonged. Around the case, over the years, rumours and news reports have filtered in several times, which later turned out to be unfounded.

An investigation by the digital platform spoke of the involvement of the Turkish secret services in the kidnapping and that the two bishops were killed and buried in an unspecified place only in December 2016, while the areas to the east of Aleppo were being recaptured by the Syrian army.

The reconstruction reported news that was already known, along with inferences that later turned out to be unfounded and without objective evidence. Commenting on the investigations, the Greek Orthodox and Syrian Orthodox Patriarchates of Antioch said in a joint note that they had no elements to confirm or deny the "disturbing reconstructions" surrounding the kidnapping. And that they are 'totally independent of the efforts we have made in the search for our two missing archbishops'.