Cardinal Dolan Seeks Prayers for Kidnapped Orthodox Clergy

NEW YORK (CNS) — Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan challenged Massgoers to hold onto hope and to pray for the safety and well-being of two Orthodox archbishops kidnapped in Syria in late April while carrying out a humanitarian mission.

“Our prayers are singularly fervent this spring morning as I invite all of us to unite in supplication,” Cardinal Dolan said during Mass on 2 May in St. Patrick’s Cathedral for Greek Orthodox Metropolitan Paul of Aleppo and Syriac Orthodox Metropolitan Gregorios Yohanna of Aleppo.

Both prelates were kidnapped on 22 April in northern Syria while on a humanitarian mission to secure the release of two priests — an Armenian Catholic and a Greek Orthodox — kidnapped in February.

The cardinal was joined by Orthodox leaders and other Catholic prelates. The Mass fell on Holy Thursday in the Orthodox Church.

“Our Holy Father, Pope Francis, our own United States Conference of Catholic Bishops and our brother Orthodox bishops from around the world have pleaded for prayers for these two brave men,” Cardinal Dolan said in opening remarks.

In his homily, he urged the congregation to remain vigilant in seeking a peaceful resolution to the crisis through prayer. “We can never give up, can we, in the cause for justice and peace in that tortured area of the world, the Middle East, that is so dear to God and to his son, Jesus,” he said.

After the Mass, the cardinal and a contingent of the Orthodox and Catholic leaders spoke with news media.

Archbishop Mor Cyril Aphrem Karim of the Syriac Orthodox Church said other than reports that the two archbishops were in good health and numerous promises that they would be released, no other information has been relayed.

Just as they spent Orthodox Palm Sunday in captivity, “they may also spend Easter” in confinement, added the Orthodox archbishop. “But, as his Eminence [Cardinal Dolan] mentioned in the Holy Mass … the early church survived through persecutions and tribulations that came upon the church.”

Mindful of that, it is hoped “that they will be with their flock, with their parishes, as soon as possible,” added the Orthodox archbishop. “We solicit the prayers of all believers throughout the world. Also, we solicit the good services of all those who are in authority, those who can make a difference,” to please intercede “on behalf of the two archbishops and secure their release as soon as possible.”

In his remarks to reporters, Bishop William F. Murphy of the Diocese of Rockville Centre, N.Y., said among the difficulties “is that we don’t have the ability, except [through] the Czech government, to have any diplomatic contacts in Damascus” and “that the rebel groups are of so many different varieties, and we just simply don’t know.”

There is consolation, Bishop Murphy continued, in that “if there’s any way that our church can be an instrument to free these two men, then you know that we’re going to be doing that.”

Bishop Gregory Mansour of the Maronite Eparchy said the “solidarity goes a long way, for Orthodox bishops to feel like they have a home with Catholics.” Forty years in the making, such unity is indicative of the “fruits of Vatican II,” he said. “It’s a beautiful way of living in solidarity with one another, and to say that one person’s suffering is the suffering of all.”

In his homily, Cardinal Dolan cited the Acts of the Apostles and referenced St. Athanasius, whose feast was celebrated at the Mass. In that context, the cardinal told those assembled at the cathedral they were exercising “two constants in the life of the Church,” specifically, “a deep faith that gives rise to prayer” and “a knowledge that we’re called to suffer persecution in and with Jesus on the cross for the sake of the Church.”

“Our faith gives rise to prayer that our two brother bishops in Syria will be protected by Jesus who always remains with his Church, like St. Athanasius was,” he said.

“When we people of faith don’t know what else to do, we pray,” continued the cardinal. “And prayer is the most effective thing that we can do.”

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Christie Chicoine is news editor at Catholic New York, the archdiocesan newspaper.

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