THE parents of missing Madeleine McCann will fly to Rome today for their meeting with the Pope in
retail tycoon Sir Philip Green's private jet.
The Top Shop billionaire businessman offered the 12-seater Gulfstream jet to
Kate and Gerry McCann following their daughter's abduction.
It will be the first time Mrs McCann has left Portugal since Madeleine
The four-year-old was snatched 26 days ago from the family's holiday apartment
in the Algarve
resort of Praia da Luz.
Sir Philip's private plane and crew will be at their disposal for the entire
The couple, from Rothley, Leicestershire, were expected to leave from a private
air terminal near Faro airport this afternoon.
They will be greeted by the British ambassador to the Holy See, Francis
Campbell, and stay at the British residency in Rome.
Tomorrow morning they will attend a general audience at the Vatican and
will be introduced to the Pope at the end of the session. Mrs McCann wants to
give Pope Benedict XVI a photograph of her daughter and the head of the
Catholic church is understood to be happy to accept such a gift.
After their meeting, they will hold a news conference for the international
media to keep the spotlight on Madeleine's abduction.
The visit comes on the day the couple released new video footage of Madeleine
captured on a family friend's mobile phone.
The two short clips show her sitting on an airport bus and boarding the flight
In the clips, blonde Madeleine, now four, can be seen wearing pink shorts, a
light pink top and trainers and holding a pink Barbie rucksack.
Throughout their nightmare ordeal the McCanns, devout Catholics, have leaned
heavily on their faith. They have attended church regularly, visited Portugal's holiest shrine, Fatima, last week and
believe the trip to Rome
will be spiritually uplifting. It is hoped the Pope will refer to Madeleine
during prayers in St Peter's
The visit will be the first of a number the couple are planning to make to
countries including Spain, Germany, the Netherlands
to raise awareness about their daughter.
Support for the McCanns has been worldwide, with the Find Madeleine site
receiving more than 135 million hits.
Meanwhile, a group of parents said today they are launching a version of the
Neighbourhood Watch scheme aimed at keeping paedophiles out of their area.
A recent attempted child abduction in the Boscombe area of Bournemouth, as well
as the disappearance of Madeleine McCann in Portugal,
has prompted residents in the Dorset town to
take the action.
Heidi Romero, a 37-year-old mother-of-three, is heading the new Parentally
Aware Neighbourhood scheme which will involve adults donning yellow bibs to
patrol parks and escort children to schools. And signs will be placed in windows
and across the area warning paedophiles to stay away.
Mrs Romero said: "The message to anyone interested in abusing children is
we're here and we're watching - so stay away."