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Pope prays for journalists killed in Afghanistan

John Paul II on Wednesday expressed his sympathy and sorrow over the killing of four journalists including an Australian in Afghanistan, and appealed for prayers for their souls and for all victims of violence.

The Holy Father's brief but emotional words came at the end of the general audience, which drew close to 7000 pilgrims to Paul VI Hall.

"I am profoundly saddened by the recent news of the brutal killing of four journalists in Afghanistan," John Paul II said. "I express my sympathy to their relatives and to all those who have been stricken by such a tragic event."

The Holy Father encouraged believers to entrust "the souls of these dead to the Lord's mercy," and prayed the Our Father with the pilgrims for the deceased and "for all other victims of violence."

The journalists were traveling in a convoy of eight cars from Jalalabad to Kabul, the Afghan capital, when they were attacked Monday by a group of gunmen. Northern Alliance sources blamed the Taliban militias, but other sources say they might have been ordinary bandits.

The victims were Spaniard Julio Fuentes of El Mundo newspaper, Italian Maria Grazia Cutuli of the Corriere della Sera, and Australian cameraman Harry Burton and Afghan photographer Azizula Haidari, both of whom worked for Reuters.