Pope Benedict XVI called Tuesday for the immediate and unconditional release of a 17-month-old epileptic boy kidnapped from his parents' northern Italian home last week.

Benedict expressed solidarity with the family of Tommaso Onofri and assured them he was praying for them.

The pope's message was sent in a telegram to the bishop of Parma from the Vatican's No. 2 official, Cardinal Angelo Sodano.

The letter said the pope joined in Bishop Cesare Bonicelli's appeal "for the immediate and unconditional release of little Tommaso Onofri, expressing his solidarity with the parents and relatives struck by profound anxiety over the brutal kidnapping."

Tommaso's parents have told police the boy was snatched from their home in Casalbaroncolo, near Parma, on Thursday night. They said they were held at gunpoint and tied up by two armed men, who made off with the baby and about $180.

The case has horrified Italians, particularly because the boy needs medication to control his epileptic seizures. His parents have appealed to the kidnappers to make sure the boy gets his medicine.

On Monday, the Italian Red Cross staged a televised demonstration on how to administer the medication.

Prosecutors are looking into possible extortion or a vendetta as the motive for the kidnapping, perhaps related to the father's work at the local post office, news reports have said.