VATICAN CITY — Pope Benedict XVI held the hands of the parents of
4-year-old Madeleine McCann, blessing them and a photo of the girl as they
asked for prayers Wednesday for their daughter who disappeared while holidaying
with her family in Portugal.
The pope spoke with the parents, dressed in dark suits, as he greeted
dignitaries seated in the front row during his weekly general audience in St.
"He was very kind, very sincere," Kate McCann told a packed news
conference. She said Benedict assured that he would "continue to pray for
Madeleine's safe return."
"It was more personal than I ever could have imagined," said Gerry
McCann. He said Benedict immediately recognized Madeline's photograph.
"His touch and thoughts and words were more tender than we could have
hoped and that will sustain us during this most difficult time," he said.
had readily accepted the British couple's request to meet with the pope, as
they press their campaign to publicize their daughter's disappearance. Devout
Catholics, they recently prayed at the pilgrimage site in Fatima, Portugal,
for her safe return.
The couple also outlined plans in the search for their daughter, saying they
would travel to Spain, Germany and the Netherlands
— countries that send many tourists to the holiday area in Portugal.
Gerry McCann brought a poster of his missing daughter, which has been widely
distributed, to the news conference at the residence of the Brtiish ambassador
to the Vatican.
He said the family was asking people going on holiday to put up the posters to
further publicize the disappearance.
He said he was grateful for the outpouring of solidarity. "One evil act
seems to be generating so much good," he said.
"Obviously we have very mixed emotions about being here, and of course why
we are here." Gerry McCann said 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."
Earlier this week, Vatican officials said that
the McCann family would be among the dignitaries and other notables brought up
to greet the pope at the end of his weekly audience.
A Vatican spokesman, the Rev. Ciro
Benedettini, said British Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor had requested the meeting.
"We are talking about a family drama that has touched world public
opinion. It could not but touch the Holy Father, especially since these people
are Catholics," Benedettini said.
"The Holy Father is considered the father of all, therefore he was
personally touched as a father," the spokesman said.
Madeleine McCann disappeared May 3 when her parents left her and her 2-year-old
twin siblings alone in their hotel room while they went to a restaurant in
their hotel complex in Praia da Luz, a resort town in Portugal's Algarve region. Gerry and Kate
McCann have said they will not return to Britain without their daughter.
Kate McCann is traveling with a pink stuffed animal — Cuddle Cat — that her
daughter took to bed with her every night.
"We have no plans to go back to the U.K. at the moment. I can't even
think about that now, to be honest," she said.