05/09/2013, 00.00
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Syrian priest: Let us pray for the release of kidnapped prelates and for reconciliation in Syria

by Simone Cantarini
For Fr Mtanios Haddad, patriarchal delegate for Rome's Greek Melkite community, there will be no peace without Christians, whether in Syria or the Middle East. Tomorrow, in the Basilica of Santa Maria in Cosmedin, there will be a Mass for the release of Mgrs Yohanna Ibrahim and Paul Yazigi and all the people kidnapped in Syria in recent months. Pope Francis's solidarity with Eastern Churches is inducing more and more Syrian priests to return to their country to help people who suffer.

Rome (AsiaNews) - "Following the example of Mgrs Yohanna Ibrahim and Yazigi Paul and other kidnapped priests, Syria's Christians want to continue the daily dialogue with Muslims, live with them, and not emigrate because of the war and the spread of Islamic extremism," Fr. Mtanios Haddad BS told AsiaNews. According to the patriarchal apocrisarius to Gregory III Laham, head of the Melkite Greek Catholic Church, "Syrian Christians are not a church or a minority to defend, but are a constitutive element of the Syrian people, and do not need the protection of the United States or Europe."

Tomorrow evening, Rome's Greek Melkite community will hold a solemn Mass for the release of Mgrs Yohanna Ibrahim and Paul Yazigi, the two orthodox bishops kidnapped on 22 April.

The service is set for 7 pm at the Basilica of Santa Maria in Cosmedin. Mgr Hilarion Capucci, bishop emeritus of Jerusalem (Melkite Greek), and Mgr Matteo Maria Zuppi, auxiliary bishop of Rome, will join Fr Haddad. Some passages from sermons delivered by the two Orthodox bishops and a message of peace from Patriarch Gregory III will be read during the Mass.

Fr Haddad said that the Eucharistic celebration is not only meant to pray "for the bishops still in the hands of the kidnappers, as are hundreds of other people, but also to raise awareness about the tragedy of the Syrian conflict that is now completely out of control."

"We have organised this initiative," he said, "to address the international community and reflect on the effects of the Syrian conflict, which started with the theory of the Arab Spring, but has now brought thousands of foreign fighters to our country where they carry out indiscriminate acts that have nothing to do with our culture. What the Syrian people ask is: 'Where are we going?'"

According to the priest, Mgr Yohanna Ibrahim of the Syrian Orthodox Church, and Mgr Paul Yazigi, who is a Greek Orthodox bishop, as well as other prelates who are still in Syria despite the risk of violence and kidnappings, are a testament to the value of the Christian presence in the country.

For Fr Haddad, the alleged involvement of Chechen jihadists in the kidnapping of the prelates is yet another confirmation of the conflict's absurdity.

 "Johanna Bishop and Msgr. Yazigi were engaged in interreligious dialogue and had daily contact with Muslim authorities. Their seizure is designed to frighten Christians, and all those who refuse to get involved in this war. Sunnis, Shias, Christians and Druze have always lived together. This cohabitation has lasted for 13 centuries. It is in our country that the first Christian communities formed and it is this shared sense of belonging that we want to defend. "

The archimandrite stressed Pope Francis's great interest for Eastern Churches. "The Christians of Syria feel his solidarity. On several occasions, he said he was praying for our country and its people. This helps our community and our bishops to remain and induces many priests who went abroad to return to their dioceses of origin," he said.

"Without Christians, the Middle East will be destroyed," he explained. "We are the bridge between the West and Arab culture and Muslim religion."

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