Pope urges Iraqi priests’ release

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Pope Benedict XVI has called for the release of two priests kidnapped in Iraq during his prayers on Sunday.
The two clerics of the Syrian-Catholic diocese of Mosul were kidnapped while attending a funeral on Saturday.

Pope Benedict, speaking in Italian outside the Vatican, asked that they “quickly let the two religious men go”.

He said the news from Iraq “rattles the consciences of all those for whom the good of the country and peace in the region is held dear”.

The pontiff was speaking during his traditional Sunday Angelus blessing to pilgrims and tourists at St Peter’s Square in Rome.

“I learned today that two priests from the archdiocese of Mosul were kidnapped and threatened with death,” Pope Benedict said.

“I call on the abductors to rapidly liberate the two clerics and I reiterate that violence does not resolve the tensions,” he said.

Ambush

The two men were seized while attending a funeral in Mosul on Saturday afternoon, Archbishop Basile Georges Casmoussa, Mosul’s head of the Syrian Catholic Church told news agency Associated Press.

Gunmen reportedly ambushed the priests’ car, dragged them out and took them to an unidentified location, according to Archbishop Casmoussa.

He told reporters he had delayed publicising the incident in the hope the kidnappers would demand a ransom and release the priests, but he had yet to hear from them.

The archbishop was himself kidnapped in January 2005 and released a day later without ransom after the abductors realised his identity.

The Syrian Catholic Church is one of the branches of the Roman Catholic Church.

It has been estimated that the Christian community in Iraq represents about 3% of the country’s 26 million people, though it is not clear how many of them have fled the country because of its violence.