John Paul II Asks Release of Italian Hostages

Peaceful March Ends at St. Peter’s Square

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VATICAN CITY, APRIL 29, 2004 ( John Paul II called for the release of three Italian hostages in Iraq, as several thousand people marched silently through the streets of Rome demanding their release and protesting the war.

The three security guards taken captive should be freed «in the name of the one God who will judge us all,» the Pope said in a message read out today by Archbishop Giovanni Lajolo, Vatican secretary for relations with states, in St. Peter’s Square.

The archbishop read the message directed toward the families of the three kidnapped civilians, at the end of a march that went from Castel Sant’Angelo near the Tiber River to the square.

Accompanying the marchers was Archbishop Francesco Cacucci of Bari, Bishop Simone Gastoni of Prato, and Father Silvano Ridolfi, representing the Diocese of Cesena — the home dioceses of the three captives.

Kidnappers have threatened to kill the security workers unless Italians protest against Rome’s military presence in Iraq.

The families of the hostages led the demonstration through Rome, stressing they were sending a message of peace, and refused to allow the march to become politicized, according to Agence France-Presse. Police estimated the turnout at 3,000. Others said 5,000 participated.

At the end of the march, the Vatican allowed a small number of people onto the square to express their views, AFP reported.

Archbishop Lajolo said the Holy Father was praying in his private chapel during the demonstration for the release of the hostages.

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