The Liberation of Two Orthodox Bishops: Between Hope and Reality

A Positive Negotiation that Does Not Reach a Conclusion

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“Hope comes to us dressed in rags, so that we will make a party dress for it” (Paul Ricoeur). We have waited so long for the release of two Syrian bishops kidnapped on Monday, March 22. The unbearable apprehension over their abduction and the real difficulty of communication with multiple sources to verify the news led us to hope that the mirages could satiate our thirst for a happy outcome.

The instant that the news appeared on the Website of the Oeuvre d’Orient, ZENIT’s Arabic Edition was interviewing a Syrian priest of Aleppo (cf. Diary of a Parish Priest of Aleppo). In a few seconds we received several communications and confirmations from Syria of the foreseen release. The “Russia Alyawm” site had even given details furnished by local sources that affirmed that “political and religious authorities intervened […] and exerted pressure to liberate the two bishops.” The site also reported that after “exhaustive negotiations” they had come to the agreement to release the two prelates.

At 11:20 pm on Tuesday, April 23, however, ZENITt  succeeded in getting into contact with a source that collaborates closely with the Orthodox Metropolitan of Aleppo, Monsignor Boulos el-Yazgi. The source denied the news of the release and stated: “There was great confusion in the diffusion of conflicting news […] because here [in Aleppo] communications are often interrupted.”

“We wished to tell you the truth about the failed liberation so that the case of the two kidnapped bishops wouldn’t be filed prematurely,” he added.

“There is absolutely no news. The two bishops were not released and we don’t have precise news on the place where they are,” the source confirmed.

Joint Communique of Two Patriarchs

Avoiding any misunderstanding of the events, the Orthodox patriarch of Antioch and All the East, His Beatitude Mar Ignatius Zakka I, and the Syro-Orthodox patriarch of Antioch and All the East, Mar Yuhanna Yazgi X, released an official joint communique which presents the circumstances of Monday’s kidnapping. The two bishops, Metropolitan Gregorios Yuhanna Ibrahim and Metropolitan Boulos el-Yazgi, were “on the road returning to Aleppo from a humanitarian mission. The two prelates were probably working to negotiate the release of Father Michel Kayal, a very young Armenian priest, and Father Maher Mahfuz, an Orthodox priest, kidnapped on February 9, 2013.

In their communique the two patriarchs confirm that Christians in Syria “are an essential component of the fabric of the people to whom they belong. They suffer with everyone who suffers.”

The communique addresses a heartbroken appeal to the kidnappers to “respect the life of the two kidnapped brothers,” and invites everyone to “desist from all acts that spread religious and confessional divisions between the children of one nation.”

The two patriarchs also expressed their understanding of “the concern that weighs down the spirit of Christians because of this event” and invited them to be patient and trust in God, recalling that “the defense of our land happens in the first place through persevering in it, and through working to make it a land of love and peaceful coexistence.”

The communique does not fail to make a dire appeal to the whole world, so that it will do its utmost “to put an end to the tragedy taking place in our beloved Syria.”

Patriarchs Zakka and Yazgi also invited their Muslim fellow countrymen  to collaborate together and refuse to use human beings as objects “either as human shields in combats or as economic or political trade merchandise.”

Finally, the prelates appealed to the kidnappers themselves, reminding them that the two men kidnapped are “apostles of love in the world.”

“Not only do words attest to the caliber of the two kidnapped bishops, but so does their religious, social and national commitment.” Hence the invitation is to “collaborate so that this painful affair is resolved far from all violence which only serves the enemies of the nation,” the statement read.

Our hope is still dressed in rags, but as one of the last aphorisms of Metropolitan Gregorios Yohanna Ibrahim says, published on April 19 on his Facebook page: “Hope … is a small window, but despite its smallness, it opens immense horizons on life.”

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Robert Cheaib

Docente di teologia presso varie università tra cui la Pontificia Università Gregoriana e l’Università Cattolica del Sacro Cuore. Svolge attività di conferenziere su varie tematiche che riguardano principalmente la pratica della preghiera, la mistica, l’ateismo, il rapporto tra fede e cultura e la vita di coppia. Gestisce un sito di divulgazione teologica Tra le sue opere recenti: Un Dio umano. Primi passi nella fede cristiana (Edizioni san Paolo 2013); Alla presenza di Dio. Per una spiritualità incarnata (Il pozzo di Giacobbe 2015); Rahamim. Nelle viscere di Dio. Briciole di una teologia della misericordia (Tau Editrice 2015); Il gioco dell'amore. 10 passi verso la felicità di coppia (Tau Editrice 2016); Oltre la morte di Dio. La fede alla prova del dubbio (San Paolo 2017).

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