Pope asks for release of kidnapped Iraqi archbishop

(Adds more from statement, background on kidnapping) VATICAN CITY, Feb 29 (Reuters) – Pope Benedict deplored on Friday the kidnapping of the Chaldean Catholic archbishop of Mosul in Iraq as a “despicable” crime and urged the gunmen to free the prelate.

Archbishop Paulos Faraj Rahho was kidnapped in the northern Iraqi city and his driver and two guards were killed when gunmen opened fire on his car.

A Vatican statement said the pope was saddened by “this new despicable act” which it called a premeditated criminal act.

“The Holy Father asks the universal Church to join in his fervent prayer so that reason and humanity prevails in the kidnappers and Monsignor Rahho is returned to his flock soon,” the statement said.

It said the pope felt close to the Iraqi people, particularly the minority Christians, and was praying that the whole country could find the path to reconciliation and peace.

Chaldeans belong to a branch of the Roman Catholic Church that practises an ancient Eastern rite. Most of its members are in Iraq and Syria, and they form the biggest Christian community in Iraq. (Editing by Sami Aboudi)