VATICAN CITY — Father Lawrence M. Jenco delivered a confidential message from his Shia Muslim captors to Pope John Paul II during a private audience Wednesday, but neither the freed American hostage nor the Vatican would comment on its contents.
However, Jenco, who spent 15 minutes with John Paul, called it "a lovely visit . . . he hugged me."
The 51-year-old Roman Catholic priest, who was held for almost 19 months before his release Saturday in Lebanon's Bekaa Valley, said he also carries a message for President Reagan, but again he refused to elaborate.
Jenco disclosed Tuesday that he had a message that he had promised his captors he would deliver to the pontiff. "To keep my promise, I have given a confidential message from my captors to the Holy Father," he said, adding that he will deliver the same message to the Archbishop of Canterbury, Robert A. K. Runcie, when he sees him in London today.
Jenco was accompanied on his visit to the pontiff by 12 of his relatives and Terry Waite, Runcie's personal envoy, who made several trips to Lebanon in attempting to win the freedom of Jenco and three other Americans held hostage there.
The freed hostage told reporters afterward that he had last seen the Pope a little more than two years ago at the Phanat Nikhom refugee camp in Thailand where Jenco worked before going to Lebanon as head of Catholic Relief Services. "I never thought (then) that I myself would be a refugee," said the smiling but obviously tired and frail priest.
Apologizing that "my silence really is out of fear and concern for those others who are still held," Jenco told questioners that he believed the Pope and Runcie could help to secure their freedom.
'Another Great Christian'
"The religious factor is of great importance in this matter," Jenco said, describing Runcie, head of the Church of England, as "another great Christian person."
Jenco asked for prayers for the release of David P. Jacobsen, 55, of Huntington Beach, Calif., director before his kidnaping of the American University Hospital in Beirut; Terry A. Anderson, 38, of Lorain, Ohio, chief Mideast correspondent for the Associated Press, and Thomas Sutherland, 55, acting dean of agriculture at the American University in Beirut.
Jenco later flew to London aboard a special U.S. military plane. He told reporters at the airport in Rome that he was carrying "messages of the heart" to family members of the Americans still held hostage.