Pope appeals for release of outspoken Colombian prelate
BY TRACY-JO SMITH
POPE JOHN Paul II made a dramatic appeal on Tuesday for the release of one of Latin America's most prominent prelates, abducted by armed rebels.
Archbishop Jorge Enrique Jimenez Carvajal, the bishop of Zipaquira and head of the Latin American Episcopal Conference (Celam) was captured along with another priest while he made his way to a religious ceremony in the town of Pacho, 55km north of the Colombian capital by two gunmen. The driver of the car they were travelling in alerted the authorities.
The Pontiff urged the kidnappers to free the two clergymen unharmed and "abandon all forms of violence". He assured also Columbia's bishops of his "intense participation " in their sorrow and urged them to continue courageously to spread the Gospel and work for peace in the violence-torn country.
Colombia's army has blamed the main leftist rebel group, the Revolutionary Armed forces of Columbia, known by its Spanish acronym FARC) for the abduction, the latest in a long line of attacks on clergy in a country whose domestic history is racked by decades of conflict and whose economy has been riddled with corruption.
Army chief General Carlos Alberto Ospina said the authorities were offering more than $35,000 for information leading to the bishop's release. Appealing for national solidarity in light of the abductions he added that the kidnap
was "a crime against humanity".
In a statement released at the Vatican, Cardinal Giovanni Battista Re, president of the Vatican's Pontifical Commission for Latin America, called the kidnappings "despicable" and an "inhuman act". He appealed to those responsible " to respect the life, liberty, human dignity and ministry" of Bishop Jimenez and Fr Orjuela by "freeing them immediately".
His colleague, Cardinal Crescenzio Sepe, prefect of the Congregation for the Evangelisation of Peoples, sent a telegram of solidarity promis ing prayers for the Columbian church and for all innocent Columbians "in whose name Bishop Jimenez always defended -and defends -the Gospel values of peace and justice".
Columbian Cardinal Pedro Rubiano Saenz of Bogota, head of the national bishops' conference issued a statement condemning the abduction and warning the kidnappers that they had automatically incurred excommunication.
Bishop Jimenez has been president of Celam, an umbrella group which co-ordinates church activity in 22 Latin American states, home to half of the world's Catholics. Apart from leading the organisation, Bishop Jimenez has served as secretary-general of the bishops' conference of Columbia.The country has a reputation as one of the most dangerous places in the world to be a priest, with most of the attacks being carried out by Marxist guerillas. To date, more than 26 priests and two bishops have been assassinated.
As The Catholic Herald went to press, the police hunt for the kidnappers continued.