Pope seeks release of Italian hostage

Pope Benedict XVI has called for the release of an Italian hostage held in Afghanistan, while that nation's foreign minister expressed optimism the woman's captivity would have a "peaceful, happy ending".

Associated Press reports that Benedict made the comments from his studio window overlooking St. Peter's Square, jammed with tens of thousands of people yesterday for his Sunday blessing. They interrupted him with applause, prompting him to tell them: "I have something else to say!"

The Holy Father said he was adding his voice to that of Italian and Afghan leaders and citizens demanding freedom for Clementina Cantoni, an Italian working for CARE International who was abducted by armed men May 16 as she was being driven to her home in Kabul.

"Let the painful experience that our sister is living through stimulate the search with all means for peaceful and fraternal agreements between individuals and nations," he said.

Afghanistan's government said it was doing all it could to free Cantoni, and more than 100 women rallied in the Afghan capital calling for her release.

"We are doing ... whatever possible to bring to an end the case peacefully and to get Clementina safe and free," Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah told reporters in Kabul. "I am optimistic that this situation will come to a peaceful, happy ending."

Cantoni, 32, had been in Afghanistan since 2002 and worked for CARE International on a project helping Afghan widows and their families.

Her kidnapping was the latest in a series of attacks targeting foreigners in Kabul, reinforcing fears that militants or criminals here are copying tactics used in Iraq. In Iraq at least eight Italians have been taken hostage, two of whom have been killed.

The rally by the women was on a dusty field in Kabul, with many participants holding pictures of Cantoni and crying. Most were widows who had benefited from Cantoni's work.

"She was here to help the widows and orphans, she is our guest," said one widow, Khori Gul. "For the sake of these ... widows, we seek mercy for her and her release."

Pope seeks release of Italian hostage in Afghanistan (Associated Press/Houston Chronicle 5/6/05)

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6 Jun 2005