The papal nuncio to Israel personally attempted to intercede with Hamas on behalf of kidnapped Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, The Jerusalem Post reported yesterday. Archbishop Antonio Franco also called on both Hezbollah and Israel to immediately stop the violence and enter into diplomatic negotiations.

"The Pope is very concerned about the violent activity on both sides," said Archbishop Franco. "The use of force can be understood under the present situation, but reason has to prevail. Each of the sides has aspirations, but the armed battle must stop and diplomatic solutions should be used."

The archbishop made the comments in his parish on the Mount of Olives during a meeting with about 30 Catholic schoolteachers from the United States. The teachers were participating in a six-day anti-Semitism and Holocaust-awareness program, sponsored by the Jewish Anti-Defamation League.

In an interview with The Jerusalem Post, Archbishop Franco said immediately after the kidnapping he attempted to secure the release of Shalit via the Catholic Church's Gaza-based parish. But he received no response from the Hamas.

In response to a question asked by a teacher, the archbishop expressed his concern about the steady outflow of Christians from the Holy Land, blaming Israel’s construction of a security wall, which "separates families and places houses on one side and livelihood on the other," reported the Jerusalem Post. He also said Christians' minority status was a cause for the emigration.

In response to rumors that the Pope was planning a trip to Israel in 2007, Archbishop Franco said no plans have been made.