09/12/2006, 00.00
IRAQ
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Priest kidnapped in Baghdad released

Fr Saad Hanna Sirop, who was kidnapped on 15 August, returned to his family last night. The pope was one of those who had prayed for him.

Baghdad (AsiaNews) – AsiaNews sources in the Iraqi capital have confirmed the release of a Chaldean priest kidnapped nearly a month ago. He was released yesterday evening and now "he is with his relatives, 27 days after he disappeared". The Nunciature in Baghdad has confirmed that Fr Saad is well, but "a bit tried by fatigue". Mgr Thomas, an attaché at the Nunciature, told AsiaNews: "I talked to him on the telephone last night and he was very tired. His mother, who was out of the city recently, rushed back to Baghdad to re-embrace her son."

Fr Saad Hanna Sirop, 34 years, was kidnapped by a gang of criminals shortly after Vespers Mass on 15 August. The young priest, ordained in Rome in 2001, is in charge of the theological department of Babel College, the country's only university of Christian religious studies, in Baghdad.

Patriarch Emmanuel Delly, the Chaldean bishops and Pope Benedict XVI all appealed for his release. On 20 August, in a telegram sent to the Chaldean patriarch, the pontiff said he was "deeply saddened" by news of the kidnapping and made a "heartfelt" appeal to his abductors "to release the "young priest" to "return to the service of God, the Christian community and his countrymen."

At the moment, the conditions for his release are not known. Rumours of his release were circulated more than once in recent weeks but they turned out to be unfounded.

As to why the priest was kidnapped, some say the most likely reason is to demand a ransom in cash. But Mgr Louis Sako, the Archbishop of Kirkuk, said one of the reasons behind this act of violence was that "they want to push Christians out of Iraq".

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