.- Two Catholic priests kidnapped more than a week ago in Mosul have been released and are in good health, the Agence France-Presse reports.
Fathers Pius Affas and Mazen Ishoa were kidnapped last Saturday after receiving threats from an unknown group. They were reportedly held for a ransom of one million U.S. dollars, but it is unknown at present whether one was paid.
According to the Rome-based missionary agency Middle East Concern, Syro-Catholic Archbishop Basile Georges Casmoussa was in charge of negotiating the release of the priests.
Pope Benedict XVI, who had appealed for the priests' freedom the day after the kidnapping, responded to the news of the priestsâ release by saying he was âextremely happy on hearing the newsâ and that he had followed "the recent events closely and with great concern."
The pontiff expressed his hope that their release would be "a sign of peace that we hope is possible to develop" as "events of this kind must not happen again," Vatican Radio reported.
The freed priests have returned to their church in Mosul. Father Affas, a native of Mosul, has been a priest there for forty years.
Iraq's Christians, most of whom are Catholics of the Chaldean Rite, number about one million. Unlike larger groups, they lack a militia of their own to provide security. Islamists and criminal gangs have targeted Christians for killing and kidnapping. They are also bombing some churches and confiscating homes. Many Chaldeans are leaving the country, and their population is believed to have shrunk to half its previous number.