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Pope Appeals for Release of Kidnapped Colombian Bishop - 2002-11-12

Pope John Paul II has appealed to Colombian kidnappers to release a bishop who was snatched Monday from a rural highway. Authorities believe Marxist rebels are behind the abduction.

Two gunmen in civilian clothes kidnapped Bishop Jorge Enrique Jimenez on Monday morning. They also kidnapped a local priest, who was traveling with the bishop to a rustic town tucked into the Andean mountains north of Bogota.

Bishop Jimenez served as president of an important Catholic policy-making board, the Latin American bishops conference, with influence throughout the region. He is the highest-ranking cleric to be kidnapped in Colombia, where abductions are rampant.

No one claimed responsibility for the incident, but the military immediately pointed a finger at the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC. The Marxist guerrilla group helps fund its insurgency with hefty ransom payments, and it has kidnapped lower-ranking church officials before. The Colombian army sent troops and helicopters to search the mountains north of the capital.

In a telegram to the head of Colombia's bishops conference, the pope said he would pray for those responsible to free Bishop Jimenez and abandon all forms of violence. Cardinal Pedro Rubiano, the archbishop of Bogota, has threatened the kidnappers with excommunication.

There are eight kidnappings a day in Colombia, most of them for economic gain. But authorities suggest the bishop's kidnapping had more to do with political maneuvering.

The FARC has been going after high-profile figures lately, including a former presidential candidate, in an attempt to push the government towards a prisoner swap: high-profile kidnap victims in exchange for a rebel commander being held in jail.