Friday, September 27, 2013

Abducted bishops Youhanna Ibrahim and Boulos Yazigi reported living Greek Orthodox Patriarch of Antioch, Youhanna X Yazigi, met Pope Francis today in the Vatican. 

The patriarch is the brother of Boulos Yazigi, one of the two bishops from Aleppo who were kidnapped in Syria last April. 

The importance of today’s meeting was therefore not just ecumenical. Youhanna X Yazigi was appointed head of the Patriarchate which has its See in Damascus, last December. 

As such he is leader of all Greek Orthodox communities in the Middle East.

Fifty-eight year old Youhanna from Latakya in Syria and his flock are going through a tough time at the moment: they still do now know what happened to Youhanna X’s brother, Boulos Yazigi, the Greek Orthodox Bishop of Aleppo who was kidnapped along with Syro-Orthodox bishop Youhanna Ibrahim near the Syrian-Turkish border. 

It is believed that the two were trying to negotiate the release of two priests who were kidnapped last January. There have been all sorts of rumours going on about the fate of the two bishops. 

Even the Apostolic Vicar of Aleppo, Mgr. Giuseppe Nazzaro had said he feared they were dead, echoing a widespread fear across the Syrian Christian community. But in recent weeks, word has been going round again about the two bishops apparently being alive. 

Fresh confirmation of this has been given by a fairly reliable source according to the international Middle Eastern news website Al-Monitor. The website claims that an official source in Beirut has confirmed that Turkish intelligence services have seen the bishops alive and apparently know where they are being held. 

A week or so ago Al-Monitor gave the most detailed reconstruction of the events surrounding the bishops’ kidnapping. According to Al-Monitor, Youhanna Ibrahim and Boulos Yazigi are apparently in an area near the town of Azaz, close to the Turkish border and are apparently being held by the group of Chechen guerrilla fighters who kidnapped them.

The geographical location is important because the area is controlled by rebel groups and the Turkish 007s know it well. 

The website specifies that informers in Ankara apparently saw the two prelates in recent days, during one of the brief windows of time when the kidnappers took them outside for a bit of fresh air. 

But the town of Azaz was recently the scene of serious internal clashes between rebel groups. 

Tensions are still as much alive here as they are in the whole of northern Syria. 

The fear is that this aspect may also complicate the negotiations for their release that the Turkish government is apparently engaged in.