Pope Assails Bishop's Kidnapping as "Criminal"

Calls for Immediate Release of Colombian Prelate

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VATICAN CITY, JULY 27, 2004 (Zenit.org).- John Paul II described as «criminal» the kidnapping by guerrillas of Bishop Misael Vacca Ramírez of Colombia and called for his immediate release.

«The Holy Father received with grief and concern the news of the totally unjustifiable criminal act and requests with paternal firmness the prelate’s immediate release,» the assistant director of the Vatican press office, Father Ciro Benedettini, said today.

«It is very lamentable and reprehensible that a bishop who has gone to proclaim the Gospel of peace and hope to the faithful entrusted to his care, especially the poorest, should be impeded in such an indescribable way to exercise his pastoral ministry freely,» added the Vatican spokesman.

On Saturday night, members of the José David Suárez Front of the National Liberation Army (ELN) kidnapped Bishop Vacca Ramírez of Yopal while he was visiting the Catholic community of Morcote.

For the past month, Colombian President Álvaro Uribe has engaged in dialogue with the ELN through the Mexican government. The ELN has been waging a decades-old war along with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, to topple the government and establish a Marxist-style state.

The kidnappers have made it known that they want to deliver a message through the captive prelate. The local Church is maintaining contacts for his release.

Uribe ordered the Public Force to begin a rescue operation immediately. «We are determined that the bishop be able to return speedily to the full enjoyment of his freedom,» he said.

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