Pope Benedict XVI met Sunday with relatives of seamen held hostage by pirates and encouraged them not to lose hope.
Benedict also called for the hostages to be treated with respect during his traditional Sunday blessing, which was delivered from the courtyard of the papal summer residence at Castel Gandolfo, where Benedict arrived last week for the summer.
Sunday marks the church's world day for the sea, and Benedict used the occasion to assure victims of piracy and their families that he is praying for them.
"I hope (they) are treated with respect and humanity, and I pray for their families so they are strong in their faith and don't lose hope of soon being reunited with their loved ones," he said.
Last year, pirates seized 53 vessels and captured a record 1,181 hostages, almost all of them off the Somali coast. Some 23 ships and 439 hostages are still in pirates' hands, according to the International Maritime Bureau.
The Vatican has long been concerned with the care of sailors through its Apostleship of the Sea, also known as Stella Maris, a Catholic welfare agency that sends chaplains to cargo tankers and cruise ships alike.
The record number of pirate attacks and hostage-takings last year has prompted even more concern in the Vatican that the needs of the hijacked crews and their families are going unmet. Earlier this year, the Vatican hosted a conference on how to better provide care for them.