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Pope urges release of Colombian bishop kidnapped by rebels

Pope John Paul II has called for the immediate release of a kidnapped bishop held by armed rebels in the mountainous jungles of northeastern Colombia.

"With sadness and concern, the Holy Father has heard news of this unjustifiable criminal act and asks with paternal firmness for the bishop's liberation without delay," said Passionist Fr Ciro Benedettini, vice director of the Vatican press office.

In a written statement released yesterday, the Vatican spokesman called it "extremely distressing and objectionable" for a bishop to be "impeded from freely exercising his pastoral ministry in such a despicable manner."

Bishop Misael Vacca Ramirez of Yopal was kidnapped on Saturday along with two other priests while on a pastoral visit in the town of Morcote. The mayor of Nunchia also was kidnapped by the same group of armed abductors.

Colombia's president, Alvaro Uribe, launched a rescue operation yesterday to free Bishop Vacca.

Archbishop Beniamino Stella, papal nuncio to Colombia, told the missionary news service, MISNA, that the local church began contacting people in its efforts to free the bishop.

The National Liberation Army is Colombia's second-largest rebel group with at least 3500 guerrillas. They and the larger Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, have been locked in a 40-year armed struggle against the government and right-wing death squads.

Pope calls for release of Colombian bishop kidnapped by rebels (Catholic News Service 27/7/04)

Pope demands release of kidnapped bishop (Reuters 27/7/04)
Colombian Rebels Kidnap Bishop 'To Send Message' (Reuters 26/7/04)
Colombia Troops Hunt for Kidnapped Bishop (The Guardian/Associated Press 27/7/04)
Abduction of Bishop of Yopal: for the church, negotiations with ELN in jeopardy (Missionary Service News Agency 27/7/04)
Pope asks rebel army to release kidnapped bishop (Vatican Information Service 27/7/04)
Colombian rebels kidnap bishop (CathNews 27/7/04)

28 Jul 2004