John McCarthy stands in front of Journalists' Altar at St Bride's

Hostage Vigils at St Bride’s: 30 years on

During the height of the civil war in Lebanon over one hundred foreign hostages were kidnapped. Among them was British journalist John McCarthy who was eventually released after more than five years in captivity on 8th August 1991, along with Brian Keenan, Terry Waite and American hostage Terry Anderson.

To mark the 30th anniversary of his release, BBC Radio 4’s Archive on 4 accompanied John McCarthy on a touching personal journey as he tried to make sense of the day when he turned from hostage to free man.

St Bride’s Church has a particular ministry to journalism which began centuries ago when the first commercial printing press was set up near the church. Around this, the newspaper industry of Fleet Street and the profession of journalism arose and an enduring connection between them and St Bride’s was established.

When John and others were held captive, all-night prayer vigils were held for them at an altar in St Bride’s. This was the origin of our Journalists’ Altar. An inscription by it recalls those vigils and ends:

At this altar, day by day, we pray for all those who face danger, persecution and death in bringing the truth in word and pictures to a troubled world.

Following John’s release a service was held in St Bride’s celebrating the end of his captivity, giving thanks for all those who had fought to bring it about, and remembering those whose kidnapping ended tragically.

John returned to St Bride’s last month to record the end of the Radio 4 programme and met with the Rector, Canon Alison Joyce, in front of the Journalists’ Altar.

Alison described the continuing need for a place to remember and pray for those journalists who face peril in their mission to bring us the news, mentioning in particular John Cantlie and Austin Tice who have been missing since 2012.

The programme ends as John lights a candle on the altar and recalls sentiments of thanksgiving for those who helped secure his release, and remembrance of those who did not survive the Lebanese hostage crisis along with those who still face such dangers today.

“It’s very moving to be here” are John’s final words in this poignant and touching personal account.

Well Hello: The Release of John McCarthy is a Whistledown Production for Radio 4’s Archive on 4 and is available to listen to online at

Posted On: Wednesday 11th August, 2021

congregation sitting for service


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