Yes, we know two Orthodox bishops are missing in Syria

Yes, we know two Orthodox bishops are missing in Syria April 25, 2013

Editor’s note: This happens now and then, every two or three years. Two GetReligion writers jumped on the same news subject and then proceeded to write and post at precisely the same time. What are the odds? In this case, we will simply let the two posts stand as written.

Yes, your GetReligionistas — the Orthodox guy in particular — have received more than a few emails seeking our take on the media coverage of the kidnapping of two Orthodox bishops in Syria.

I have seen quite a bit of coverage. You can read European sources. You can follow the story at in Arab media, including You can read about the kidnappings in Catholic Media. You can read about these events at Fox News and other conservative media.

At this point, you cannot read about the kidnappings in reports by the mainstream American press.

Why is that? I don’t know, although it does appear that many mainstream editors seem to think that the persecution of Christians in troubled parts of the world is “conservative news.”

There have been reports that Orthodox Bishop Paul Yazigi — the brother of Antiochian Orthodox Patriarch John X Yazigi of Damascus — and Bishop Yohanna Ibrahim of the Syriac Orthodox Church were kidnapped by terrorists in the village of Kfar Dael while they were on a relief humanitarian mission linked to relief efforts. Media reports indicate they were taken while on the road between Aleppo and the Bab al Hawa crossing with Turkey. The deacon driving their car was shot dead.

While there have been reports that the men were freed, this new report from Aljazeera states otherwise:

Two kidnapped Syrian bishops are still being held, sources have said, denying earlier reports that they had been released, and prompting calls by the international Christian community for their freedom.

Sources told Al Jazeera on Thursday that the two leading Christian figures remained captured a day after Pope Francis called for their release.

Early on Tuesday, reports quoting Greek Orthodox Bishop Tony Yazigi said that Bishop Boulos Yazigi of the Greek Orthodox Church and Bishop John Ibrahim of the Assyrian Orthodox Church, had been kidnapped while carrying out humanitarian work in the northern province of Aleppo. Later on the same day, reports said they had been released, quoting a Christian association.

A priest at the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Antioch and All the East in Damascus, who declined to be named, told Al Jazeera that the bishops have not been released.

“We haven’t heard anything from them. We do not know who kidnapped them,” the preist said.

And later in the story, readers are told:

“A rebel commander in Idlib told me he was sure they were not released,” Al Jazeera’s Basma Al Atassi, reporting from the Turkish border city of Antakya, said. “He said he believed they were kidnapped by an Aleppo-based battalion.”

As a member of an Antiochian Orthodox parish — Holy Cross Orthodox Church, just south of Baltimore — we prayed for the kidnapped bishops last night during the Liturgy of the Presanctified Gifts (we are still in Great Lent, on the ancient Julian Calendar). Pascha (Easter) is May 5th. The leaders of these two ancient churches in the East have released a joint statement about the kidnappings, which remains posted online. Here is a key part of that document:

1 — The Christians living here are an essential part of their lands. They suffer the pain every person suffers, work as messengers of peace to lift the injustice off every oppressed: They follow the teaching of their Gospel telling them that love is the basis of human relations. The official positions issued by the spiritual leaders of the various churches, are the best expression in this respect and the mission fulfilled by the two kidnapped bishops is but a further proof of this orientation.

2 — The Christians in this East are deeply sorrowed by what their countries are going through, namely violence that is spreading and killing the sons of the one country and exposing their lives to various dangers of which kidnapping, that represents one of its the most horrible expressions due to its absurdity, and is jeopardizing of the lives of the peaceful and unarmed individuals. We call the kidnappers to respect the life of the two kidnapped brothers as well as everyone to put an end to all the acts that create confessional and sectarian schisms among the sons of the one country.

And later:

5 — We … call all the churches in the whole world to stand fast in the face of what is going on and witness to their faith in the power of love in this world. It is necessary to take steps that reflect their refusal to all kinds of violence hitting the human beings living in the East.

6 — We take the opportunity to call our partners in citizenship, from all Islamic confessions, to stand hand in hand and work on refusing the misuse of man and deal with him as a product, a shield in the battles or a means for monetary or political bribery.

7 — Finally we address the kidnappers and tell them that those whom they kidnapped are messengers of peace in this world. Their religious, social and national work witnesses for them. We call them to deal with this painful accident away from any tension that serves only the enemies of this country.

So why isn’t the kidnapping of two prominent Syrian leaders receiving any attention the elite American new media? Why is this “conservative” news?

I honestly don’t know. I find it especially interesting that the story did not draw coverage after it was addressed by Pope Francis. Usually, major American journalists will pay attention to big stories when the Vatican speaks. I mean, it’s hard to ignore the pope.

Over at the very non-conservative National Catholic Reporter, the omnipresent John L. Allen Jr., noted:

Rome on Tuesday reacted with alarm to the kidnapping of two Orthodox bishops in Syria, fearing it may mark the beginning of the nightmare scenario: that Syria will become the next Iraq, meaning the next Middle Eastern country where Christians emerge as primary victims of the chaos following the disintegration of a police state.

A Vatican spokesman called the kidnappings “a dramatic confirmation of the tragic situation in which the Syrian people and its Christian community are living.”

According to a report from the Asia News agency, the two bishops were stopped at gunpoint by armed men Monday on their way to the city of Aleppo. A catechist traveling with them was shot to death while the two bishops were forced out of the car and taken away. The prelates involved are the Syriac Orthodox bishop of Aleppo, Msgr. Youhanna Ibrahim, and the Greek Orthodox Metropolitan of Aleppo and Iskenderun, Msgr. Boulos al-Yaziji. Both are well known in Rome as veterans of ecumenical dialogue with the Catholic church.

Will the kidnappers demand ransom payments from the patriarch of the ancient Antiochian Orthodox Church, threatening to take the life of his brother bishop who is also, in this case, literally his blood brother?

Sounds like a story to me. But it appears that I am wrong.

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