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Respect and humanity for hostages at sea

· Holy Father’s appeal at the Angelus on «Sea Sunday» ·

“I assure the seafarers, who are unfortunately held hostage through acts of piracy, of my prayers”, said the Pope at the Angelus on 10 July. In his appeal, the Pontiff expressed his wish that the hostages, “be treated with respect and humanity”, and prayed “for their families, that they may be strong in the faith and not lose the hope of soon being reunited with their loved ones”. Benedict XVI then met briefly with family members of the hostages, who had come from various nations.

“The meeting lasted about 10 minutes”, Fr Giacomo Martino, National Director of the Apostolate of the Sea, told L’Osservatore Romano , “during which each person present was able to experience the great humanity of Benedict XVI. Each person was able to speak with the Pope”. He continued, “and like men of great stature he knows how to put people from all levels of society at ease”.

Among the families were mothers and wives who have been living in a state of daily anxiety for their loved ones — sometimes going three months without news — not knowing whether they are at sea or on land, and living in fear of that phone call in the night asking for ransom. “There were no tears”, said Fr Giacomo, “but eyes filled with emotion. At the end, however, everyone left the Papal Residence with a more relaxed face, in the consoling certainty that the Pope will personally pray for each of them”.

The fact that, during his summer holidays, Benedict XVI wanted to meet the families shows his desire to draw public attention to a topic which has nearly been forgotten by the mass media. “It was not a small gesture, but an enormous one”, said Fr Giacomo, who expressed the hope for a global and coordinated response at the international level to the problem of piracy. Last year there were 445 attacks, with 53 ships taken hostage and 1,181 seamen captured. So far, in 2011, there have been 214 new episodes with 26 ships still in the hands of pirates and 800 hostages.

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