Thousands Pay Last Respects to Italian Intelligence Officer

Some 20,000 mourners gathered in Rome to pay their last respects to an Italian intelligence officer shot and killed by American troops in Iraq while escorting an ex-hostage to freedom.

‘‘He died as a hero, and I cannot forget he had also helped to free us,’’ Maurizio Agliana, one of four Italian security guards kidnapped in Iraq last April, told the hundreds gathered for Nicola Calipari’s funeral service at the Santa Maria degli Angeli Church.

Calipari, a veteran Italian secret service agent and a practiced negotiator, had helped arrange the safe return of journalist Giuliana Sgrena, who was handed over to Italian officials following a month of captivity in the hands of Iraqi insurgents.

According to reports, Calipari and two other Italian agents were escorting Sgrena to Baghdad when U.S. troops at a checkpoint fired at their vehicle Friday as they headed to the airport shortly after Sgrena release. Sgrena said Calipari died shielding her.

Today, Cardinal Secretary of State Angelo Sodano sent two telegrams on behalf of John Paul II—one to Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi for the liberation of Sgrena and the other to Fr. Maurizio Calipari for the death of his brother Nicola.

In the first telegram, Sodano said that the Pope expressed his "satisfaction for the work done" by the Italian government and by those who "generously worked for the happy ending of the deplorable kidnapping." At the same time the Pope, "saddened by the tragic death of Nicola Calipari," expressed his "spiritual closeness and heartfelt condolences to the government and to the colleagues of this most faithful and heroic servant of State, who in accomplishing the delicate mission with which he was entrusted did not hesitate to sacrifice his life."

In the second telegram, to the brother of the deceased security agent, Fr. Calipari, the Pope expressed his "profound spiritual closeness" to him and to family members, especially the mother, wife and children of the deceased. "In admiration of the heroic gesture, which was motivated by a sense of duty and by sentiments of Christian virtue, His Holiness raises fervent prayers for the repose of the soul" of the deceased.

Calipari is survived by his wife, a 19-year-old daughter and a 13-year-old son.