The Pope and human rights groups have joined calls for the release of two Catholic priests who were kidnapped in Mosul, northern Iraq, on Friday 12 October 2007, Syrian Catholic Church head Archbishop Basile Georges Casmoussa has briefed reporters.
Father Pius Affas a 60 year-old Syrian priest from Mosul and Father Mazen Ishoa, aged 35, a recently ordained, were on their way toa service in a church in the suburbs, when they were snatched.
Reports say that the forcible siezure took place at around 16:00 local time. Both militants and armed criminal groups are reularly involved in kidnappings in Iraq, effecting thousands of indigenous people and a number of foreigners.
A Chaldean priest kidnapped earlier this years was released on 15 August. A bishop was kidnapped and released two years ago. Local Christian communities have been hard pressed and have diminished significantly through exile since 2003.
Pope Benedict XVI, head of the world's 1.2 billion Roman Catholics, appealed for the men's safe return following the recitation of the Angelus (a traditional prayer of devotion to the Virgin Mary) at St Peter's Rome on Saturday.
The two priests were travelling to the church of Our Lady of Fatima in al-Faisaliya district when they were taken. There have been no claims of responsibility yet
Fr Affas is a biblical studies professor at the seminary. He is a past editor of the respected Arab language magazine 'Christian thought'. Fr Mazen Ishoa was ordained a few months ago following completion of a degree.
"I learned today that two priests from the archdiocese of Mosul were kidnapped and threatened with death," the Pope declared. "I call on the abductors to rapidly liberate the two clerics and I reiterate that violence does not resolve the tensions."
"I pray to the Lord for their freedom, for peace and for all those who suffer from violence," he added.