Groups of different faiths across the world are praying as Iraqi hostage-takers threaten to kill four kidnapped Christian peace activists this week.
On Friday, almost one week after the four Christian peace activists from the Chicago-based Christian Peacemakers Team (CPT) were kidnapped, the Arab satellite television network Al Jazeera broadcasted a videotape revealing the demands of the Iraqi kidnappers identifying themselves as the "Swords of Righteousness Brigade.
The captors vowed to kill the hostages unless the U.S. and British governments free all prisoners in U.S. and Iraqi detention centers, setting the deadline for Dec. 8. The four captives have been identified as Thomas W. Fox, 54, from Virginia; Professor Norman Kember, aged 74, from London; James Loney, aged 41, from Toronto; and Harmeet Singh Sooden, aged 32, a Canadian who has recently been studying in New Zealand.
The World Council of Churches (WCC) on Friday released a statement appealing for the release of the captives, followed by the call for prayers to all American churches from the National Council of Churches (NCC) U.S.A.
"We call on our churches to take time in their Sunday worship services to offer special prayers for the peacemakers," the NCCUSA statement read. "We invite other religious communities meeting for worship this weekend to similarly offer prayers, and encourage friends wherever possible to remember our brothers in interfaith vigils."
The NCCUSA acknowledged the contribution of the four Christian peacemakers in Iraq, saying they were there "for the sole purpose of bearing witness to the love of God as it is expressed through the sacrificial presence of the Prince of Peace."
In England, the Churches Together in Britain and Ireland (CTBI) called on Christians to join a silent candle-lit prayer vigil on Friday at the steps of St. Martin-in-the-Fields Church, Trafalgar Square, and central London. The vigil was co-organized by the Fellowship of Reconciliation (FOR), the CPT U.K., the Catholic gospel-based peacemaking movement Pax Christi U.K. as well as the Muslim Council of Britain (MCB). Together they offered prayer for the British captive Norman Kember, who is a devoted Baptist and the secretary of the Baptist Peace Fellowship until 2004. The Baptist Union of Great Britain (BUGB) has also released a statement to express solidarity with Kembers family.
Executive Director of Tearfund New Zealand, Stephen Tollestrup, who visited with CPT leadership in Canada for informal discussions, affirmed "CPT has sought to reduce violence and advocate on behalf of the human rights of all Iraqis, and for an end to the occupation of Iraq," according to a released statement.
In addition, Tollestrup said CPT work "have been particularly active in supporting the civil rights of Palestinians in the occupied territories." He believes that there had been a misunderstanding and prays the captives will be released unharmed soon.
In Palestine, Muslim religious leaders have appealed to the captors of the four western Christian peace activists to release them unharmed immediately, according to the Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA).
"We appeal to the captors of these four men to release them unharmed. As far as we know, these are innocent people who have done nothing wrong," said the Mufti of Palestine Ikrema Sabri, according to IRNA.
Meanwhile, a petition of appeal has been made available online to gather signatures from people worldwide to appeal for the release of the four CPT members. CPT also asks all people of faith to pray this weekend for the hearts and the well-being of the people who are holding the peacemakers. Further details can be found at www.cpt.com.