Charles Ajalat, an Eastern Orthodox activist from California who helped to start the FOCUS social service agency in the Hill District, is trying to get Congress to apply pressure regarding the kidnapping of two Syrian Orthodox bishops on April 22, 2013.
It’s unclear who is holding them: both the government of Syria and the rebels fighting them have blamed each other. Some accounts claim that Chechen militants who have come to Syria to support the rebels are to blame. Although the kidnapping of Christian clergy for ransom has become common during the civil war, no demand for ransom has been made public. At the time they were abducted the two bishops were returning from a failed attempt to negotiate the release of two priests -- one Orthodox and one Armenian Catholic -- who had been kidnapped nearly three months earlier.
One of the kidnapped prelates, Bishop Paul Yazigi, is Greek Orthodox, while Bishop John Ibrahim is Syriac. Bishop Ibrahim has life-threatening high blood pressure and diabetes, and is said to be in dire need of medication. The case has drawn
strong ecumenical support. Pope Francis has called for their release and on May 11 a large group of Eastern Catholics held a special Mass in Rome to pray for both the captive bishops and the priests they tried to free.
Six members of Congress drafted a letter to Secretary of State John Kerry, asking him to make the safe release of the two bishops the United States' top priority in Syria. The drafters are seeking signatures from more members of Congress, and Mr. Ajalat is asking anyone interested in religious freedom or human rights to urge their representative to sign before Thursday.
An interview that Mr. Ajalat gave to Ancient Faith radio is here.
The e-mail I received from Mr. Ajalat is below.
The following needs just a minute or two of your time to help obtain the release of the two bishops who were kidnapped three weeks ago in Syria while on a humanitarian mission. One of the bishops is Metropolitan Paul (Yazigi), brother of our Antiochian Patriarch, John X. The other is the Syriac Archbishop Youhanna (Ibrahim). Six prominent members of Congress are already spearheading this effort, and yesterday sent a Dear Colleague letter to their remaining 429 colleagues to join as co-signers of the letter they are sending to the Secretary of State later this week (with a copy to Ambassador Ford), asking the Representatives to commit to their signing by this Friday noon. I have been working with the Congressional Representatives and they have asked me to contact you for needed help.
The letter to the Secretary and the Dear Colleague letter are both attached below. Both simply express the Members concern and ask that the release of these hostages be a priority of our Government.
The sponsors of the kidnapped bishops’ letter (“Sherman letter”) so far include Congressional Representatives Brad Sherman a senior member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee (Los Angeles), Carolyn Maloney (New York, Co-Chair Hellenic Caucus), Gus Bilirakis (Tampa, Co- Chair Hellenic Caucus) John Sarbanes (Baltimore), Trent Franks (Arizona and Chair of the International Religious Freedom Caucus) and Mike Pompeo (Kansas and a member of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence). God willing, before the deadline for the Congressional Representatives of this Friday to sign, many other prominent members of Congress will be joining them (a number more signed on after the Dear Colleague letter below). I also understand Congressman Darrell Issa, Chairman of the House Oversight Committee and Congressman Justin Amash (Michigan) are going to be signing today.
Each of the 435 Representatives in Congress, however, are besieged with many matters, get numerous such requests with similar short timelines, and there is a serious need to bring the matter to the attention of the Congressional Representatives as many times and by as many people as possible and to encourage them by letting them know their own constituents are concerned about the bishops’ safety .
In that regard, I ask two non-time consuming things of you: 1. encourage your Congressman and members of Congress who are part of the caucuses supporting the letter by a one-sentence phone and e-mail message (all as simply set forth below); and 2. forward this e-mail to as many of your friends as possible asking them to do the same.
With regard to caucuses, if any of you know members of the caucuses supporting the letter, which presently are the International and Religious Freedom Caucus (60 members), and the Hellenic Caucus (119 members, list attached) in addition to contacting your Congressional Representative, please contact as many of the Caucus Members as possible and ask them to sign the Sherman letter. The Hellenic Action Group has also taken up this cause and their support will be very important.
With respect to your Congressional Representative, please immediately call, leave a voice mail and send an e-mail pursuant to the following instructions:
(1) call immediately your Congressional Representative’s Office in Washington D.C. (You can get the phone number by going to contactingthecongress.org and putting in only your zip code).
(2) When the receptionist answers ask for (1) first, the e-mail address of, and (2) then to speak to, the person in charge of Foreign Affairs or Syria for the Congressional Representative’s office and if you reach the aide’s voice mail, leave the following message:
“Please ask my representative to sign before Friday the Sherman letter requesting the release of the two bishops kidnapped in Syria.”
Thank you for your help on this urgent, time-sensitive matter,