7 Catholic Missionaries Released in Colombia

Paramilitary Forces Convinced of Captives´ Pastoral Work

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BOGOTA, Colombia, APRIL 19, 2002 (Zenit.org).- Seven Catholic missionaries kidnapped by paramilitary forces were released Thursday after assuring their captors that their work is purely pastoral.

The missionaries — including an Irish priest and a German volunteer — were taken hostage Tuesday in a parish near Santa Rosa del Sur by members of the United Self-Defense Organizations of Colombia (AUC).

Officials said the AUC believed that Franciscan Father Brendan Forde was linked to the Irish Republican Army. The rebels realized later the priest, who has worked in Colombia for the past two years, had nothing to do with the terrorist group.

Delmar Burgos, the mayor of the locality, informed the Bolivar regional government that the missionaries regained their freedom in the «last hours.» The mayor said he was trying to learn more details.

The religious mission included German volunteer Grudrum Kern, Franciscan Duván Tabarquino, Tertiary Capuchin Sisters Gabriela Montoya, Lucía Ortiz, and Luz Elena Restrepo, and layman Mauro Sastoque, all Colombians.

The paramilitaries asked their captives to explain their presence in the area. Once the missionaries´ identity and their evangelizing work in the area was established, they were released by the AUC.

Violence against Church figures has been common recently. Archbishop Isaías Duarte Cancino of Cali was shot to death March 16 outside a church. And a priest was slain April 6 while celebrating Mass in La Argentina.

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