( dpa ) - Pope Benedict XVI made an impassioned appeal Sunday for the release of kidnapped Iraqi Chaldean Archbishop Paulos Faraj Rahho.
"With deep sadness I am following the dramatic events of the kidnapping of Monsignor Paulos Farah Rahho, Chaldean Archbishop of Mosul," Benedict said during his regular Sunday Angelus blessing.
"I join the appeal of (Chaldean) Patriarch, Cardinal Emmanuel III Delly... so that our dear cleric, who is also in poor health, be promptly released," Benedict told the faithful gathered in St Peter's Square.
Gunmen on Friday abducted Rahho after killing three aides who were travelling in a car with him in the eastern al-Nour district where the group had attended an evening religious function.
It is not clear whether the kidnappers have made any demands for Rahho's release.
Benedict said Sunday he would offer "prayers in suffrage for the three young souls who were with him (Rahho) at the time of the kidnapping".
"I also wish to express my closeness to the entire Church in Iraq and in particular the Chaldean Church which has once again been hit hard, while I want to encourage all the pastors and the faithful to remain strong and steadfast in hope," the pontiff said.
In January bombs exploded outside two Chaldean churches and a monastery belonging to another Iraqi Christian denomination, the Assyrians, wounding four people.
Chaldeans form the largest group within Iraq's Christian minority which is estimated to number 550,000, or around 2.5 per-cent of the population.
An ancient Christian community the Chaldeans retain their own liturgy and traditions while recognizing the Roman Catholic Pope's authority.
In 2007 Benedict elevated the Chaldean spiritual leader Patriarch Emmanuel III Delly to the position of cardinal, the first for Iraq.
Since the 2003 fall of Saddam Hussein's regime, Christians have been targeted in terrorist attacks by Muslim extremists who accuse them of being allies of the US-led "crusaders". The violence has prompted many Iraqi Christians to flee the country.