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Rescued hostages thank Pope for his help

The two Italian humanitarian workers held by kidnappers for 21 days in Iraq have personally thanked Pope John Paul II for his prayers and public appeals for their release.

"We want to thank you for being close to us and also the Iraqi people," Simona Torretta told the pope as she and fellow hostage Simona Pari knelt before him in a private audience at the Vatican yesterday.

The Holy Father expressed thanks to God for the happy conclusion to the ordeal that captured the attention of Italians for three weeks.

The women were accompanied at the audience by their mothers, a sister of Torretta and a brother of Pari. Catholic News Service reports that they entered the papal library with the broad smiles that had become familiar to Italians from the posters plastered across the country and the incessant broadcasting of videotapes of them at work with the children of Baghdad.

Torretta and Pari, both 29, were abducted by heavily armed gunmen on 7 September in the offices of their relief organisation. Italians were horrified and outraged that the women, pacifists who opposed the US-led war in Iraq, should be held hostage when they had been striving to improve the lot of Iraqis.

In a general audience on 8 September, Pope John Paul appealed to those holding hostages in Iraq, "and, in particular, for the two volunteer workers kidnapped yesterday in Baghdad."

He asked "that they may all be treated with respect and quickly restored unharmed to the affection of their loved ones." He learned of their release on 28 September, "with great joy," said spokesman Joaquin Navarro-Valls.

Hope for the safe release of the women waned during their captivity as the government of Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi sought to open channels of communication with the kidnappers through intense diplomatic activity in neighbouring Islamic countries. Twice, news that they had been killed appeared on Arabic-language Web sites. The Italian government has denied reports that a ransom of up to $A5.53 million was paid to secure the release of the women.

After ordeal in Iraq, Italian hostages thank pope for his appeals (Catholic News Service 5/10/04)

Pope Calls for an End to Kidnappings (Zenit 4/10/04)
Italian ex-hostages meet with Pope (Catholic World News 5/10/04)
After the two Simonas let us not forget the other hostages, Baghdad Patriarch says ( 5/10/04)

6 Oct 2004