VATICAN CITY, JAN. 11, 2006 (Zenit.org).- Benedict XVI met with 29 children from the Russian school of Beslan who survived the 2004 siege by Chechen rebels that left more than 300 dead.
Today’s meeting, which lasted a few minutes, took place at the end of the general audience, in a room near the main auditorium of Paul VI Hall.
The brief meeting was enough “for the Pope to be moved,” reported the Italian ANSA agency, citing an eyewitness.
The Holy Father patted the children who witnessed the terrorist violence. He had photographs taken with them, and, thanks to the help of an interpreter, asked them their names.
The youngsters are in Italy for a few days, thanks to the hospitality given them by the Italian Civil Protection Service, which has been in contact with them since the tragedy.
“These children have suffered a most violent trauma,” Benedict XVI said to those who are acting as hosts for the children. “We must help them to be able to forget the tragedy so that they will be witnesses of peace for the future of humanity.”
The children were students at the Beslan school which was seized in 2004 by an armed Chechen group. Gunmen kept them hostage, together with their teachers and parents, for several days until the Russian security forces intervened.
The standoff ended after an explosion in the school triggered a firefight between security forces and hostage-takers, leaving 331 people, including 186 children, dead. Thirty-one hostage takers also died in the violence.