BOGOTA, Colombia – A Colombian bishop who leads the key policy making body for the Catholic Church in Latin America was kidnapped Monday in an area where leftist rebels are active, a Catholic priest said.
Jorge Enrique Jimenez was abducted along with the Rev. Desiderio Orejuela on their way to perform a religious ceremony in the town of Pacho, 35 miles north of the capital, fellow clergyman Raul Alfonso Carrillo told Radionet.
Carrillo said he was told about the kidnapping by the men's driver, who was also captured but then released.
"We don't have any information as to whether it was guerrillas or common delinquents," Carrillo said.
The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, is active in the area. The leftist group has carried out scores of kidnappings, using ransoms to help finance its insurgency.
Gen. Carlos Alberto Ospina, commander of the Colombian army, called on Colombians to help find Jimenez, who works at the Zipaquira cathedral just outside Bogota. The army offered a reward of about $37,000 for help in finding him.
For the past two years, Jimenez has been president of the Latin American Episcopal Conference, an organization of Roman Catholic bishops that helps develp church policy in Latin America. The conference coordinates Catholic activity in the 22 nations of Latin America, which hold almost half the world's Roman Catholics.
Jimenez, a native of Bucaramanga, Colombia, previously served as the secretary general of the group as well as heading the organization of bishops from Colombia.
Earlier this year, the archbishop of Cali was shot and killed after performing a mass wedding in a poor neighborhood. Archbishop Isaias Duarte was an outspoken critic of all sides in Colombia's conflict. Authorities are still investigating the motive for his murder.
Roughly 3,500 people are killed every year in Colombia's 38-year civil war, which pits the FARC and a smaller rebel group against government forces and an illegal right-wing paramilitary force.
Colombia also has the highest kidnapping rate in the world, with more than 3,000 people taken hostage last year. Rebels kidnap for ransom and to push their political agenda.