Pope Prays for Victims of Russian School Siege

Calls Attack a «Vile and Pitiless Aggression»

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LORETO, Italy, SEPT. 5, 2004 (Zenit.org).- John Paul II prayed for the victims of the school hostage-taking in Beslan, Russia, an attack he called a «pitiless aggression» against children and families.

During the Mass the Pope presided over at the Marian shrine here today, the Prayer of the Faithful included an intention for the more than 350 people who died in the Russian tragedy, almost half of them children.

The 250,000 faithful on hand, most of them members of Catholic Action, were invited to pray «for the Russian people hit by the tragedy, for all the dead, and for the numerous innocent victims.»

Archbishop Angelo Comastri of Loreto announced at the start of the Mass that a plane of the Italian Civil Protection left in the morning to take aid and medicines to the wounded in Beslan.

On Saturday, John Paul II sent a message to the Russian authorities, through the Holy See’s representative, Archbishop Antonio Mennini, to express his «affection to the Russian people at this time of distress and anguish.»

In a telegram sent in his name by Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Angelo Sodano, the Pope described the terrorist attack as a «vile and pitiless aggression against defenseless children and families.»

The Holy Father «commends to the mercy of the Most High the innocent victims of this tragedy imploring eternal rest for them.»

«Once again, His Holiness deplores all forms of terrorism and hopes that the whirlwind of hatred and violence will not prevail,» the text added.

Lastly, the Pope «implores the Most Holy Virgin, so venerated by Russia’s Christians, to inspire in the hearts of all, thoughts of wisdom and intentions of peace and reconciliation.»

On Friday afternoon, when he received the tragic news of the outcome of the hostage-taking, John Paul II retired to pray for the dead and wounded, said Vatican spokesman Joaquín Navarro Valls.

Cardinal Walter Kasper, president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, said that he could not but «deplore this horrible crime which shows total contempt for human life.»

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