Last week the 2,000-day mark since the abduction of two Syrian archbishops was passed. Syriac Orthodox Archbishop Yohanna Ibrahim and Greek Orthodox Archbishop Paul Yazigi haven’t been heard from since gunmen kidnapped them outside Aleppo in April 2013, almost five and a half years ago.
The World Council of Churches (WCC) has repeatedly called for the release of the archbishops and at the same time expressed grave concern at the rapidly deteriorating situation for Christians in the Middle East.
“Sadly, the statement issued by the WCC Central Committee at its bi-annual meeting in June this year calling for a safe return of our Christian brothers to their churches, their communities and their families, needs to be repeated. We continue to pray for them, as a sign of hope for all the Christians of Syria and the region”, says WCC general secretary Rev. Dr Olav Fykse Tveit.
Calls for prayers have been heeded by member churches worldwide and shared by church leaders on social media and networking platforms.
After more than seven years, the civil war in Syria continues. Casualties are counted in the hundreds of thousands and the suffering among survivors in war-torn areas is unimaginable. Millions of Syrians have become displaced, either within their own country, or as refugees in neighbouring Jordan and Turkey, as well as in Europe and elsewhere.
The once prosperous and vibrant Aleppo, an ancient metropolis in the northern part of the country, with an estimated pre-war population of more than four million, has been severely damaged. Many have lost their homes and been forced to leave the city under crossfire between rebel forces and government soldiers.
“As Christian witnesses, we will continue to stand by victims of war and injustice, and cry out loud against human rights violations,” Tveit affirms.
The previous WCC Central Committee statement also underscores the need for a new social pact throughout the Middle East region – a common narrative that is developed and shared by all communities of the countries of the region based on an inclusive understanding of citizenship and human rights, constitutionally guaranteed, and under which all churches and faith communities, with their diverse ethnic, religious and cultural identities, can live and prosper in the love and grace given to all by God.