Kidnapped Catholic priests freed in Iraq

Two Iraqi Catholic priests kidnapped last week have been released, a spokesman for Cardinal Emmanuel III in Baghdad said last night.

He told reporters: "I talked to the hostages. They are well. They say they were treated like guests."

Father Federico Lombardi, S.J., director of the Vatican press office, confirmed that the priests have been liberated.

The two priests, Father Mazen Ishoa, 35, and Father Pius Afas, 60, were abducted on their way to celebrate Mass on October 13 at Our Lady of Fatima Parish Church in the al-Faisaliya neighborhood.

According to Catholic sources in Mosul, they were released on a street in the city yesterday morning. It has not been confirmed whether a ransom was paid for the two priests. The kidnappers, who did not make any claims about political allegiance, had asked for a $1 million ransom and had set a payment deadline for Saturday.

Last week Pope Benedict appealed for the priests to be freed, using his weekly Angelus blessing to send the message that violence cannot bring relief to the tense situation in Iraq.

According to the Catholic News Service,the Vatican expressed relief at the release of two Iraqi priests. "We are very happy about their liberation," said Father Lombardi. "We had followed this episode very closely and were deeply concerned.

"This is a sign of peace that we hope improves. We hope kidnappings such as this will not be repeated."

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