The Metropolitans of Aleppo in Syria, Mar Gregorios Yohanna Ibrahim and Boulos (Paul) Yazigi were abducted April 22nd, 2013 by 'unknown persons' and their fate is still in question.
This repulsive event is just one of many serious examples of the increasing persecution that Christians are now experiencing in the Middle East.
Over the past year I have been working with Cardinal Christoph Schonborn, Archbishop of Vienna, and "Pro Oriente" in Vienna, Austria. Today Cardinal Christoph Schonborn in his capacity as chairman of the "Pro Oriente" Foundation's board of trustees together with the Patriarchs Youhanna X (Antiochan Orthodox), Ignatius Zakka I Iwas (Syriac Orthodox), Gregorios III Laham (Melkite greek Catholic), Louis Raphael I Sako (Chaldean Catholic), Mar Dinkha IV (Assyrian), Nerses Bedros XIX (Armenian Catholic) published a joint declaration on the situation of Christians in the Middle East.
The unprecedented nature of this collective statement of Patriarchs and Cardinal is testimony to the extreme situations in which Christians in the Middle East now find themselves.
The precise wording of the declaration is as follows:
In deep concern regarding the situation of the Christians - and of all the people in the Middle Eastern countries where Christianity originated - we turn to the governments of those countries, to the leaders of religious communities, to international and regional organisations, and to representatives of civil society, that they may undertake everything in their power :
~ to obtain the immediate release of the kidnapped Metropolitans of Aleppo - and beyond this of all those who have been kidnapped in Syria,
~ to refuse the logic of violence and adopt the logic of dialogue,
~ to respect the sovereignty and unity of the States and to reject any illegal external military intervention,
~ to make it possible to return for all those who have been driven out of their homes or have had to flee,
~ to bring the suffering of the peoples and the conflict in Syria - which is also endangering the security and stability of the neighboring countries - to an end as quickly as possible through negotiations between all those involved,
~ to establish a political order in the Middle East which guarantees full respect of all human rights and thereby also religious liberty and freedom of conscience, but also full civil rights and equality for all the inhabitants of these countries.
The Christians in the Middle East are an essential and indispensable element of society. We are certain that in the future, too, they will contribute to building up a society characterised by peace, mutual respect and respect of human rights together with their fellow citizens who belong to other religious communities or have different political alignments.
With this in mind, we are united in prayer and in our efforts for a humane and dignified future with all Christians and people of good will.
I hope you will help me share this message with your friends and colleagues around the world.