Parents of Missing Girl Meet Benedict XVI

Pope Assures Them of His Prayers

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VATICAN CITY, MAY 30, 2007 (Zenit.org).- The parents of a missing 4-year-old British girl sat in the front row at Benedict XVI's general audience to ask for prayers for their daughter.

The little girl, Madeleine McCann, vanished while on vacation with her family in Portugal in early May.

Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, director of the Vatican press office, said the meeting was a "gesture of spiritual closeness, prayer and attention to this particular case, as well as to so many parents of missing children."

"It has been a very significant act, an act of support for Madeleine's parents and those who are involved in searching for her and in battling against the criminal phenomenon of kidnapping," Father Lombardi added.

When Kate and Gerry McCann reached the Pope at today's general audience, he paused for a few moments with them, exchanging a brief conversation and blessing a photo of the child.

Gerry later said: "He is a fantastic person that has given us a lot of support. I got excited when he touched and blessed the photo of my daughter."

The couple asked Benedict XVI to pray for their daughter, and he assured them of his prayer for them and for Madeleine.

Mixed emotions

According to the Associated Press, the Vatican readily accepted the British couple's request to meet with the Pope, both for prayer and to continue publicizing their daughter's disappearance.

The family previously made a pilgrimage to Fatima, Portugal, to pray for her safe return.

"Obviously we have very mixed emotions about being here, and of course why we are here," Gerry McCann told the Associated Press as he arrived in St. Peter's Square.

"In normal circumstances it would be one of the most exciting things we could do in our own lifetimes, but very much on our minds is the fact that we are here without Madeleine."

The McCann family also gave a press conference at the residence of Britain's ambassador to the Holy See.