Eight years after two bishops were kidnapped by Islamist extremists in Syria, the country’s Christians renewed prayers for their return.

Members of the country’s Churches gathered for a service in Aleppo’s Syriac Orthodox Cathedral yesterday (Thursday 22nd April), to mark the anniversary of the abduction of Syriac Orthodox Bishop Youhanna Ibrahim and Greek Orthodox Bishop Boulos (Paul) Yazji in 2013.

Despite the Churches’ repeated efforts to obtain information about the fate of the two bishops there has been no news.

Two missing priests Father Michel Kayyal (Armenian Catholic) and Father Maher Mahfouz (Greek Orthodox) were also remembered during the ceremony in St Ephrem’s Cathedral.

After the ceremony, Archimandrite Mousa Al-Khasi, the Greek Orthodox Vicar of Aleppo, told Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN): “We gathered here to pray for the safe return of Bishop Boulos Yazji and Bishop Youhanna Ibrahim to their archdioceses.

“This event is sad for all of us. But with the grace of God and the solidarity of our brothers and sisters, we have hope. God is the almighty and everything is possible by his grace.”

On 22nd April 2013 Bishop Ibrahim and Bishop Yaziji, respectively the Syriac Orthodox and Greek Orthodox metropolitans of Aleppo, were abducted in the town of Kafr Dael, about 7½ miles (12 km) west of central Aleppo.

At the time the two bishops were negotiating the release of Father Michel Kayyal and Father Maher Mahfouz who had been abducted the previous month.

Arriving at a checkpoint, their car was surrounded by a group of armed jihadists. The extremists killed the driver, who was a deacon.

In a statement by ACN’s international executive president, Thomas Heine-Geldern, which was read during the ceremony, the charity expressed its solidarity with Syria’s Christians:  “During these eight long years the pontifical foundation Aid to the Church in Need has prayed and encouraged its benefactors around the world to come together and to implore in faith for their prompt liberation.

“We cannot forget them, as St Paul tells us in his letter to the people of Corinth: ‘If one part suffers, all the parts suffer with it – if one part is honoured, all the parts share its joy’.”

Dr Heine-Geldern said that the charity would continue praying for the two bishops: “Eight years after their abduction ACN never tires of asking for their life, liberation and peace.

“These two shepherds accompanied their flock in times of difficulty and set an example of faithful dedication. May the God of Life, the Lord of the History be with them.”

Archimandrite Al-Khasi sent a message of gratitude to ACN’s benefactors: “Thank you, all the members of ACN, for your solidarity and for your help to our people.

“It gives us hope, that the feast of the resurrection of Jesus Christ is above all this and it will help us, in these difficult times, to be by him forever.”