Two years have passed since the disappearance of the two Metropolitans of Aleppo, the Syriac-Orthodox Archbishop Mar Gregorios Yohanna Ibrahim and the Greek-Orthodox Archbishop Boulos Yazigi on April 22, 2013. Both priests were consumed by their efforts to care for all Syrians and to do whatever possible assist the people of Aleppo through an increasingly harsh and dangerous existence. I met the Bishop Mar Gregorios in 2012 and was deeply impressed by his personal commitment to his flock and to all in Syria - regardless of their faith or political orientation.
Two years later, rumors continue that both Archbishops might still be alive, perhaps even in the hands of a security service after going through many exchanges between captors since their original kidnapping. Other reports claim to offer information on the life, injury, sickness or even death of one of the two or both Archbishops. Their disappearance could well serve certain political and strategic considerations - as both Archbishops criticized the ongoing fighting and bloodshed, advocated for more effective humanitarian assistance, and argued for a negotiated political solution. Others wonder if the kidnapping and silence suggest an intra-church struggle, given Mar Gregorios Yohanna's great international prominence.
Rumors aside, the kidnapping of two senior church leaders seems to be a uniquely prominent case in contemporary Syria. The silence concerning the kidnapping is deafening. Who are the kidnappers? What do they want? What is the state of the two captive Archbishops?
Neither the bodies nor relics of the two Metropolitans have been found since they disappeared. Whoever holds them has removed two highly valued persons from regular church and public life; important individuals whom they could also use for deals, such as prisoner exchange. Moreover, both Archbishops' captivity could be of strategic value for the Assad government, since the disappearance of two outspoken proponents for peace and non-violence can conveniently be blamed on the "terrorist opposition."
The Archbishops' disappearance has become a painful symbol of the heinous brutality, inhumanity, and suffering of the Syrian conflict. Since 2011, more than 220,000 Syrians have died, hundreds of thousands are injured, over 50,000 have vanished, and more than 9 million have become refugees and internally displaced persons - an especially horrific situation for women, children, and the elderly.
In many meetings and publications before his kidnapping, Archbishop Mar Gregorios Yohanna Ibrahim powerfully argued for the ending of all violence and the peaceful co-existence of all religions and ethnicities. He advocated reconciliation, forgiveness, dialogue, and safeguarding of the unique pluralistic fabric of Syrian society and national unity. He repeatedly called for the immediate cessation of fighting and conflict by all, immediate and effective humanitarian assistance, an all-encompassing dialogue, and a solution at the negotiating table in order to put an end to the Syrian tragedy. I can only imagine his outrage and concern for the current violence and suffering.
Whoever holds the two Metropolitans has to be aware that their release would send a powerful, positive, and encouraging message of light and hope. It would be an immensely meaningful, symbolic step on the way towards stopping the carnage and halting the suffering. We have to end that conflict and begin rebuilding the society and a normal life. We owe this to the men, women and children who suffer in Syria and the region.
As a heartbroken friend and as one who wishes the best for future Syria, I prayerfully ask those holding the Archbishops to release them as a gesture of goodwill, faith and hope.