Pope Prays for Children Who Died in India Fire

Receives Somber News While Vacationing

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LES COMBES, Italy, JULY 16, 2004 (Zenit.org).- John Paul II paused for prayer after hearing news of a school fire in southern India that led to the deaths of at least 84 children.

Vatican spokesman Joaquín Navarro Valls said that the Pope was told the news this morning, his last day of vacation in Valle d’Aosta in the Italian Alps.

«The Pope has been especially affected by the fact that children were involved in the tragedy. He has prayed for them,» the director of the Vatican press office told Vatican Radio.

More than 100 children were injured in the fire in Kumbakonam, in the state of Tamil Nadu. The death toll could rise, since 15 children were in critical condition.

The fire started in the kitchen of Lord Krishna Middle School, where meals were being prepared for more than 900 pupils, and then spread.

It was a somber note at the end of the Pope’s 12-day holiday. Spokesman Navarro Valls said the vacation has done the Pope much good.

«He has rested, and has been able to go on an outing every day,» the aide said. «Although it rained some days, the Holy Father loves nature, even when it rains or is windy.»

«This Friday, last day before he leaves, we were in a wonderful place. Here the Holy Father can see the summit of Mont Blanc. For him, these are days of contemplation, prayer, reading, and rest,» the Vatican spokesman said from the mountains via mobile phone.

The Holy Father said to those who were with him: «I know you will regret leaving all this beauty. So will I.»

«Here, one really touches the hand of God,» Navarro Valls quoted the Pope as saying.

On Thursday, the Pope went to Youla, and paused near a cascade. An area resident opened his house to John Paul II so that he could stay there awhile, leaving the key in the door’s lock.

On his return, the Holy Father stopped five times to greet people, most of whom were local farmers. Some 200 well-wishers, including children, were waiting for him near the chalet where he is staying.

On Saturday, the Pope will travel to Castel Gandolfo, the papal residence south of Rome, where he will spend the rest of the summer.

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