Pope Urges Release of Captives in Iraq

Calls for an End to Violence There and in the Holy Land

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VATICAN CITY, APRIL 19, 2004 (Zenit.org).- John Paul II appealed for the release of all those kidnapped in Iraq and for an end to violence in that country and in the Holy Land.

«I follow with sadness the tragic news that comes from the Holy Land and Iraq,» the Pope said Sunday, after praying the Regina Caeli with pilgrims gathered in St. Peter’s Square.

«May the spilling of our brother’s blood cease! Such inhuman acts go against the will of God,» he said.

From the window of his study the Holy Father addressed the pilgrims and said he felt «particularly close in thought and in prayer to the families of those who are anxious about the fate of their loved ones, especially for all those who have been taken as hostages.»

He appealed to the kidnappers to «have human feelings.»

«I beg you to return the persons you have in your hands to their families, while I pray to the merciful God for the populations of the Holy Land and of Iraq, and for all those who work in those areas for reconciliation and peace,» the Pope said.

More than 40 people from 12 countries have been kidnapped in Iraq in recent days. Some of them have been released. So far, an Italian, Fabrizio Quattrocchi, has been killed.

Last Friday, Cardinal Renato Martino, president of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, expressed the Holy See’s willingness to mediate in favor of the hostages’ release.

«The Holy See is ever ready, as it has been throughout the centuries of its existence, to offer its pacifying action and mediation, when it is requested,» the cardinal said on Vatican Radio.

Cardinal Martino also requested «that the international community enter the [Iraqi] scene, transforming the current type of presence into a pacifying presence of all the components of Iraqi society.»

«There must be forces accepted not as forces of occupation, but really as forces of reconstruction,» he said, adding that it is «the surest way for the recovery of that tormented nation.»

In statements that same day on Vatican Radio, Archbishop Fernando Filoni, apostolic nuncio in Iraq, confirmed the Holy See’s interest in mediating the release of the kidnapped. But he acknowledged that it is difficult to establish contact with the kidnappers.

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