National Catholic Register


Benedict’s Pastoral Touch

Pope Reaches Out to Parents of Kidnapped Girl



June 10-16, 2007 Issue | Posted 6/5/07 at 9:00 AM


The disappearance of a son or daughter is every parent’s nightmare. And when it happens far away from home, in a foreign country and culture, the situation is particularly traumatic.

But that’s what happened May 3 to Catholic couple Gerry and Kate McCann, when their daughter Madeleine was abducted from their hotel room in Portugal, nine days before her fourth birthday. The McCanns, from Leicestershire, England, have since mounted an international campaign to find Madeleine.

At the end of May, they broadened their search to the rest of Europe, beginning with a May 30 meeting with Pope Benedict XVI.

The brief encounter took place on the steps of St. Peter’s Basilica at the end of the Pope’s weekly general audience. The Holy Father held the couple’s hands in silence and then placed his hands on a photograph of Madeleine the couple had brought with them.

Benedict put his thumb over her face and blessed the image. As a parting gift, he gave the couple five rosaries: two for them, two for their 2-year-old twins Sean and Amelie, and one for Madeleine.

“He was very kind, very sincere, and said he would pray for us and our family and he’d continue to pray for Madeleine’s safe return to us,” said Kate McCann.

She had originally brought the photograph to give to the Pope but said that by returning it to them, the Holy Father had strengthened the couple’s hopes.

“That photograph will stay with me now,” she said. “It was very emotional but also a positive experience.”

She was also clutching Madeleine’s favorite toy, a pink stuffed animal called Cuddle Cat that she took to bed with her every night.

“It was more personal than I could ever possibly have imagined,” Gerry McCann told a press conference after the audience. “His touch, thoughts and words were more tender than we could have hoped and that will help sustain us in this most difficult time.”

The McCanns told reporters before the audience that under normal circumstances, meeting the Pope “would be one of the most exciting things we could do in our own lifetime, but very much on our minds is the fact that we’re here without Madeleine.”

Pastoral Support

An official who accompanied the couple throughout their stay said after the meeting that the couple was sure “the Pope’s sentiments would remain with them for the rest of their lives.” He also added it was an “intensely personal and pastoral” occasion for the Holy Father.

Vatican officials and British clergy in Rome also offered pastoral support. One of the Pope’s bodyguards even added a word of encouragement — putting his hand on Kate McCann’s shoulder, he said, “Courage.” Onlookers applauded as they left St. Peter’s Square.

The Vatican’s deputy spokesman, Passionist Father Ciro Benedettini, said Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor of Westminster had requested the meeting with the Pope.

“We are talking about a family drama that has touched world public opinion,” Father Benedettini told the Associated Press. “It could not but touch the Holy Father, especially since these people are Catholics.”

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, 100 yards away, in their hotel complex in Praia da Luz, a resort town in Portugal’s Algarve region.

The McCanns have said they will not return to Britain without their daughter. “We have no plans to go back to the UK at the moment. I can’t even think about that now, to be honest,” Kate McCann said.

A few days prior to their meeting with the Holy Father, the couple traveled to the Marian shrine of Fatima, Portugal, where they said they received much consolation from the faithful and promises of prayers.

Before leaving Rome to return to Portugal on the evening of May 30, Gerry McCann appealed to holidaymakers traveling in Europe to advertise pictures of his daughter in public places in the hope someone might have information that could lead to her safe return.

He also drew attention to a website the family has set up (

‘Strength and Hope’

When asked how the trial has changed them, Gerry McCann said their faith “has given us strength” and that all the good will “has restored my faith in humanity as much as anything else.”

His wife added that the first 72 hours were the worst time.

Said Kate McCann, “But then, as time goes on, and the prayers that we’ve had everywhere — I mean it really does give you strength and hope, and since then we’ve been strong and more positive.”

Edward Pentin

writes from Rome.