.- Pope Benedict XVI compassionately held the hands of the parents of 4-year-old Madeleine McCann, blessing them and a photo of the girl at the Wednesday audience today. The couple, who is Catholic, went to ask prayers for their daughter who disappeared while the family was vacationing in Portugal.
Thirty two thousand people were present at the general audience, but the pope took time to meet with Gerry and Kate McCann. "He was very kind, very sincere," Kate McCann told a packed news conference. According to the Associated Press, she said Benedict reassured them that he would "continue to pray for Madeleine's safe return."
"It was more personal than I ever could have imagined," said Gerry McCann. When Benedict saw a photograph of Madeline he recognized her right away. "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.
When the Catholic couple expressed their desire to meet with the Holy Father to ask for his prayers the Holy See was quick to say yes.
A Vatican spokesman, Fr. Ciro Benedettini, said British Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor asked for the meeting to be arranged.
"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.
"Obviously we have very mixed emotions about being here, and of course why we are here." Gerry McCann said as the couple 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." Expressing his gratefulness for the support they have received he said, "One evil act seems to be generating so much good.”
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.