VATICAN CITY — Pope Francis is responding to the kidnapping of two Orthodox bishops in Syria with “intense prayer” for their health and release.
The Pope “was informed of this serious new act, which adds to the growing violence in recent days and a humanitarian emergency of vast proportions,” Vatican Press Office director Father Federico Lombardi said in an April 23 statement.
The Holy Father is following the events “closely and with intense prayer for the health and the release of the two kidnapped bishops,” Father Lombardi reported.
Archbishop Yohanna Ibrahim of the Syrian Orthodox Church and Archbishop Paul Yagizi of the Greek Orthodox Church were kidnapped April 22 near Aleppo, Syria, by armed men, who killed their driver.
The official Syrian news agency SANA reported late Monday that the archbishops were engaged in humanitarian work just over the border in Turkey and were returning to Aleppo when they were attacked.
The opposition rebels and the Syrian government have both traded blame over who carried out the kidnapping, so it remains unclear who is responsible.
Father Lombardi said that the assault on the archbishops “and the killing of their driver, while carrying out a humanitarian mission, is a dramatic confirmation of the tragic situation faced by the people of Syria and its Christian communities.”
Pope Francis, he said, is praying that, “with the commitment of all, the Syrian people will finally discover effective answers to the humanitarian tragedy and see on the horizon real hopes for peace and reconciliation.”
At an April 17 press event in Rome, Greek Melkite Catholic Patriarch Gregory III Laham said that 2 million Syrians have been forced to leave their homes, more than 1,000 Christians have been killed, and 20 churches have been destroyed in Syria’s conflict.
Christians make up between 5% and 10% of Syria’s population, but large numbers of them have fled to neighboring countries like Lebanon and Jordan to escape the fighting.