Monday, September 23, 2013

Archbishop of Canterbury calls for week of prayer for hostages and their families

Monday 23 September 2013

I am praying today for all those who remain hostage in a shopping mall in Nairobi, as well as for their families and friends waiting anxiously for news. I’m praying too for their captors, that they would see and understand that hostility and violence will never be allowed to have the last word.

There is nothing new about taking people hostage – and the more innocent the better, as it gets the kidnappers more leverage. The problem is that while initially there is much media coverage, eventually we forget the victims: they disappear first from the front page, then from any page, and finally even from memory.

I have been reminded of this by the stories from Camp Ashraf in Iraq. Until recently it was a refugee camp holding members of the Iranian opposition, among others. Conditions have been very bad. In the very recent past it was raided, a significant number of people were killed and a number of others disappeared into captivity.

In Syria, kidnapping has become a normal part of pressure on communities. In April, two Metropolitan bishops of Aleppo – Mar Gregorios Ibrahim of the Syriac Orthodox Church and Paul Yazigi of the Greek Orthodox Church of Antioch – were kidnapped, and their driver was killed, while they were on a humanitarian mission. Since then a Jesuit priest, Fr Paolo D’Oglio SJ, has also been taken.

It’s a form of terror that is calculated to undermine the morale of those close to the people who disappear. Circumstances in wars are never simple; Camp Ashraf has a very controversial history. But that is not the point. Justice is always transparent; the use of kidnap and absence of due process is always obscure. Hostages go into the darkness so that fear spreads among their friends and families.

What can we do? First we ought to pray. Prayers are effective, as we saw with the release of Archbishop Ignatius Kattey of Nigeria last week. Many of those released speak of the peace that came from prayer. Prayer says we are in solidarity with the victims of injustice. It does not say the victims are perfect, but that we stand with those suffering the injustice.

We can show – where we have links to the situation – that we care. No-one can support all victims of injustice; but where we are aware, we ought to show it matters.

So make this a week of prayer for hostages, remembering especially those from Camp Ashraf and those in Syria – and the people of Nairobi.

We cannot pretend to understand all the complexities of the situation. But we know that such acts of hostage-taking, kidnapping or extra-judicial killing are always wrong.

Justin Welby