"Over time, time fears mount” for the fate of the bishops and priests kidnapped in Syria, however, "who can say that the door is closed?". "Hope" of their release remains, although the passing of every week and month "makes this more difficult."
Speaking to AsiaNews, the apostolic nuncio in Syria Archbishop Mario Zenari, points out that "there are at least 20,000 missing persons" in the country including lay people and religious, bishops and ordinary citizens, Christians and Muslims, Syrians and foreigners, including journalists. Yesterday, the Orthodox Church appealed to the international community, calling for greater commitment to the liberation of two bishops kidnapped in Aleppo, northern Syria, two years ago.
Since the beginning of the Syrian conflict, jihadi militias and militant groups have kidnapped several leading Christian religious leaders, most notably two bishops – Metropolitan Boulos Yazigi (Orthodox Church of Antioch) and Metropolitan Mar Gregorios Youhanna Ibrahim (Syrian Orthodox Church) – taken in April 2013.
In addition to them, there is Jesuit Father Paolo Dall'Oglio, an Italian-born priest kidnapped in Syria on 29 July 2013, and two other priests, along with several lay volunteers, including two Italian young women in their early twenties, released in mid-January. Also last year, militants kidnapped a group of 13 nuns north of Damascus, released a few months later in a prisoner exchange.
two ecumenical prayer meetings were held in Syria and Lebanon on April 19 for the release of kidnapped priests and bishops.
Addressing the faithful patriarch of the Syrian Orthodox Church of Antioch Yohanna Yazigi, brother of one of the two kidnapped bishops, expressed his hope that "they are still alive", even though "the world remains silent" and "no one has provided tangible evidence" of their fate. "We have tried to negotiate with anyone who could help us in this matter – added the patriarch – but unfortunately there is total silence."
Speaking to AsiaNews, the apostolic nuncio in Syria confirms that the fate of the hostages, "is unknown". Yesterday, he adds, "we prayed in Damascus" but "the more time passes, the more a climate of distrust and fear increases among people".
Although the kidnappings took place over two years ago, the Vatican diplomat warns, "who can say that the door is closed" and there is no more hope of their release. "But I want to say – concludes Msgr. Zenari – that the bishops and Fr. Dall'Oglio are just the tip of the iceberg, because there are currently at least 20 thousand people missing, people of whom we know nothing. Right now we want to remember all of them. "
Since the beginning of the uprising against Syrian President Bashar al Assad in 2011, more than 3.2 million people have fled the country whilst another 7.6 million have become internally displaced.
At least 200,000 people have been killed in the fighting, many of them civilians. Last year was the worse in terms of casualties.
In the spring of 2013, the Islamic State group emerged out of the cauldron of Syria's civil war, in all its violence and brutality. From that point, it advanced rapidly, seizing large swathes of Syrian and Iraqi territory.