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BY Jim Cosgrove
VATICAN CITY-Pope John Paul II condemned the Aug. 15 kidnapping of a Colombian bishop, and appealed for a lasting peace to end the “absurd violence”'in Colombia.
The Pope made his remarks at the end of his Aug. 18 general audience.
Speaking in a firm voice, the Holy Father said “the news of the kidnapping of Bishop Jose de Jesus Quintero of Tibu, in Colombia, carried out by armed groups on the day of the Assumption, takes us in thought and prayer to that beloved nation.”
Bishop Quintero was seized by armed rebels on his way home from a parish visit in the town of Tarra in northern Colombia. It is the second time in recent years that the bishop has been held against his will by rebels.
A diocesan statement said the kidnappers identified themselves as members of the Simon Bolivar Guerrilla Coordinator, an umbrella group under which Colombia's two main rebel armies conduct joint operations.
Father Vianey Sanchez, kidnapped along with the bishop, was released within hours to inform the vicar general of Tibu, Msgr. Nelson Rozo.
The Holy Father renewed his “urgent call, which up until now has not been heeded, for peace in Colombia.” He added: “Dozens of innocent persons are in the hands of the kidnappers. To all those who are victims of this absurd violence, I express my closeness and prayer so that they will be returned to their families right away.”
The Pope asked all those involved in the conflict “to respect the sacred right of human life, to continue the peace process and to ensure the application of humanitarian law.”
The Pope has publicly requested the release of all hostages in the country, including the faithful who were captured while attending Sunday Mass on May 30 in Cali's Church of La Maria. Several dozen of the original 150 hostages remain in the hands of the Army of National Liberation, a guerrilla group known by its Spanish acronym ELN.
Archbishop Isaias Duarte Cancino of Cali officially excommunicated the guerrillas for the kidnapping, which John Paul earlier referred to as a “sacrilege.”
The Colombian bishops' conference also demanded the release of the bishop and of all victims of kidnapping in Colombia.
In the statement, signed by the president of the Colombian bishops' conference, Archbishop Alberto Giraldo Jaramillo of Medellin, the bishops urged the rebels to show “respect for the person and life of Bishop Quintero”'and demanded his “immediate release.”
“We renew our rejection of violence, no matter which group originates it,”'they said.
“We also reject any form of deprivation of freedom, not only in the case of Bishop Quintero, but in the case of all persons in our country suffering the evil of kidnapping,”'said the bishops.
In 1997, Pope John Paul made an appeal for the release of Bishop Quintero who was freed unharmed after being held 15 days by the ELN.