Priest Kidnapped in Ivory Coast

Locals Await Arrival of Papal Envoy

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ABIDJAN, Ivory Coast, MARCH 31, 2011 ( Father Richard Kissi, the diocesan director of Caritas in Abidjan, was kidnapped in the midst of violent conflict in various parts of Ivory Coast.

Today Caritas released a statement reporting the Tuesday kidnapping of the priest by an armed group and calling for his immediate release.

Lesley-Anne Knight, secretary general of Caritas Internationalis, noted that «Father Kissi was providing urgent humanitarian relief in Ivory Coast to people affected by the conflict.»

In that country, political conflict has escalated into military clashes between supporters of outgoing President Laurent Gbagbo and those of President-elect Alassane Ouattara.

Some 10,000 people have been displaced as the warring factions attempt to take over various cities by violent force.On Wednesday, the republican forces loyal to Ouattara won Yamoussoukro, the capital city. That same day, the confrontation escalated in Abidjan, the country’s largest city, where the presidential palace is located.

Today Fides reported the words of a local source who wished to remain anonymous: «We hear the echo of gunfire in several districts of the city, but the district of Cocody, where the presidential palace is situated, is quiet although heavily guarded by the Gbagbo’s forces.

«Movement on the streets of the neighborhood is almost nonexistent.»

Father Kissi was kidnapped while traveling to Anyama, a suburb of Abidjan, to evacuate seminarians due to an outbreak of violence in that area.

Jean Djoman, director of human development at Caritas Ivory Coast, said, «We do not know whether Father Kissi is well and have not received any claims from the kidnappers.»

Security for aid workers

The aid agency continues working to provide food, health care, sanitation and other assistance to the displaced persons in that country.

Knight affirmed: «Caritas always works regardless of religion, politics or race. Humanitarian staff need to be able to work in security as outlined by the Geneva conventions.»

Meanwhile, the local Church awaits the arrival of the Pope’s envoy, who is due to visit the country over the weekend. On Wednesday in his general audience, Benedict XVI announced that he is sending Cardinal Peter Kodwo Turkson, president of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, to «that noble country» to «express my solidarity and that of the universal Church with the victims of the conflict, and to encourage reconciliation and peace.»

The Pontiff made an «urgent appeal for the process of constructive dialogue for the common good to begin as quickly as possible.»

He continued: «The dramatic clashes necessitate the urgent restoration of respect and peaceful co-existence. Every effort must be made to this end.»

The local source told Fides that «the call for peace and reconciliation launched by Benedict XVI has been widely echoed in the Ivorian newspapers and was very appreciated.»

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