Pope prays for liberation of 317 kidnapped Nigerian students

(AP) — Pope Francis on Sunday decried the kidnapping of 317 students from their boarding school in northwest Nigeria and prayed for the girls’ quick release.

Addressing the public in St. Peter’s Square, Francis said he was adding his voice to others including Nigeria’s bishop in condemning what he described as “the vile abduction” of the girls.

Police on Friday in Nigeria said gunmen had abducted the students from their boarding school. Several large groups of armed men operate in the area and are known to kidnap for ransom money and the release of their jailed cohorts.

“I pray for these girls, so that they may return home soon,″ the pope said. ”I am close to their families and to them,″ Francis said, asking people to join him in prayer.

A resident of the area said the gunmen also attacked a nearby military camp and checkpoint, preventing soldiers from interfering with the mass abduction.

On Saturday, authorities in Nigeria announced that nearly 40 students, teachers and relatives abducted on Feb. 17 from a school in northern Nigeria have been freed.