This photograph, released by Vicenza Diocese, shows Vicenza Bishop Beniamino Pizziol (centre) flanked by father Gianantonio Alllegri (right) and Giampaolo Marta during a Mass in Tchakidjebe Church, near Maroua, Cameroon. Picture: Vicenza Diocese


Rome - Two Italian priests and a Canadian nun working as missionaries in northern Cameroon were abducted before dawn on Saturday in their residences by two armed groups in the western African country, Italian government and Catholic church officials said.

Italy's foreign ministry identified the priests as Giampaolo Marta and Gianantonio Allegri, but declined to give other details, including the Canadian's identity, to avoid compromising efforts for the missionaries' release. It noted that its website cautions against travel in the area, 30 kilometres (20 miles) from the border with Nigeria “in consideration of the risk of kidnappings due to presence of jihadist elements coming from Nigeria.”

A Vatican spokesman, the Rev Ciro Benedettini, said the priests were assigned from the Vicenza diocese in northern Italy.

The missionaries who were kidnapped “are greatly loved and greatly appreciated,” Vicenza diocese spokesman the Rev. Alessio Graziani said. “The people there have great esteem for them.”

Benedettini said Pope Francis was told early Saturday about the abduction, was praying for the three and “expressed hope for a solution.”

Vatican Radio said the three were seized by the armed kidnappers in the diocese of Maroua.

“It isn't ruled out that those who carried out the abduction belong to the Islamic fundamentalist group Boko Haram,” Vatican Radio said. Diocesan officials said no one had claimed responsibility for the abductions.

Vatican Radio broadcast an interview with an unidentified priest from Vicenza who said the kidnappers took the Canadian woman, but left nuns from Cameroon who work with the Italian priest.

The Italian news agency ANSA quoted diocesan officials as saying the nun is 80. Neither the ministry nor the Vicenza diocese identified her. - Sapa-AP