Kidnapped bishop rescued in Colombia

Saturday, November 16, 2002

BOGOTA, Colombia -- Colombian army troops rescued one of Latin American's leading Roman Catholic bishops and another priest on Friday after a gunbattle with their rebel captors in an Andean mountain region.

Laughing with joy and his face covered with several days' white stubble, Bishop Jorge Enrique Jimenez was flown in a military Huey helicopter to an army base in Bogota, where he was mobbed by family members, camouflage-clad soldiers and journalists.

"This is an unforgettable moment," Jimenez said. Asked if he had feared for his life, he said: "I always have faith in God."

Jimenez, 60, and the Rev. Desiderio Orjuela were kidnapped Monday in the mountains of central Colombia by suspected rebels of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC. Jimenez is the president of the Latin American bishops conference, which determines Roman Catholic Church policy in the 22 nations of Latin America, home to nearly half the world's Catholics.

Friday's dramatic rescue -- in which one rebel was killed and two were captured -- ended a kidnap saga that had shaken Colombia and drawn condemnation from Pope John Paul II and other Roman Catholic leaders.

"The safe and sound rescue fills Colombians with satisfaction," Colombian President Alvaro Uribe said on arriving in the Dominican Republic.

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