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Dozens Gather at Prayer Vigil for Christian Hostages in Iraq

LONDON – Around 100 people gathered in London’s Trafalgar Square Mar. 4-5 to hold a silent vigil marking 100 days since Briton Norman Kember was taken hostage in Iraq.
( [email protected] ) Mar 07, 2006 09:43 AM EST

LONDON – Around 100 people gathered in London’s Trafalgar Square Mar. 4-5 to hold a silent vigil marking 100 days since Briton Norman Kember was taken hostage in Iraq.

During the hourlong vigil, prayers were said for the safe release of the 74-year-old peace activist and his fellow captives who were kidnapped during a mission in Baghdad by a group demanding the release of Iraqi prisoners.

The group, calling itself The Swords of Righteousness Brigade, claimed to be holding the men, who were abducted in Baghdad on Nov. 26 last year.

The Rev. Alan Betteridge, president of the Baptist Peace Fellowship and a friend of Kember for over 40 years, said churches throughout the United Kingdom had been asked to open their doors this weekend to allow people to pray for the hostages.

"It has been a weekend for prayer but also raising awareness of the situation because there is no news from Baghdad and so it's easy to forget the hostages," he said.

The hostages were last seen earlier this year, on Jan. 28, when video footage was screened on Al-Jazeera television showing the four Christian Peacemakers – Norman Kember, Tom Fox, Harmeet Singh Sooden and James Loney.

The grainy 55-second film clip, which is dated for Jan. 21, was the first concrete evidence the four are alive since a previous video was released on Dec. 7, 2005.

"On the one hand you are glad they are still alive but on the other you wonder what is happening to them after 100 days," Betteridge said.

Although The Swords of Righteousness said this was the last chance for U.S. and Iraqi authorities to release all Iraqi prisoners before the four would be killed, Christian Peacemaker Teams member Beth Pyles told the BBC: "On a practical level we have the video tape of Jan. 28 that was seen around the world that showed all our guys.

"And although they're a lot thinner, they are very much alive, and there's nothing that's happened since Jan. 28 that would lead us to believe there is anything other than life for them."

This week, Kember’s wife released a new statement saying: "Norman has always been involved in peace-making activities ever since he chose to do hospital work instead of national service. He went with a peace team to support those who were suffering in Iraq. On Nov. 26 he and Tom, James and Harmeet were taken as hostages. Two videos have been shown and two deadlines have passed."

She told how the period since her husband’s abduction had been highly traumatic, but also added, "We have been wonderfully supported by our friends, by church people of all denominations, by people of other faiths, including Muslims and by hundreds of well-wishers worldwide. I'd like to thank everyone who is taking the time and trouble to pray and to send cards, letters and flowers."