Pope Prays for Victims of Malaysian Airliner and Their Loved Ones

Appeals for Peace After Tragedy Claiming Some 300 Lives, Including 80 Children

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The Pope has made a heartfelt appeal for peace on hearing of the Malaysia Airlines flight shot down above Ukraine, claiming some 300 lives, including a much-loved Australian nun and teacher and a group of HIV/AIDS researchers.

According to a statement issued by the Vatican press office this afternoon, the Pope learned with consternation the news of the disaster of the Malaysia Airlines flight in the eastern region Ukraine, marked by strong tensions.

It added that the Pope raises his prayers to the numerous victims of the incident and for their loved ones, renewing to the parties in conflict his heartfelt appeal for peace and commitment to finding solutions with dialogue in order to prevent further loss of innocent human lives.

En route from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, the Malaysian Airline passenger plane was shot down Thursday over Ukraine. The missile strike claimed 298 lives, some 80 of whom were children. 

On board the plane were 173 Dutch nationals, 44 Malaysians, 27 Australians, 12 Indonesians, nine passengers believed to be from the U.K., four each from Belgium and Germany, and one from New Zealand. Twenty passengers nationalities are still to be identified, the Guardian reported today.

Sister Philomene Tiernan, a teacher at eastern Sydney Catholic girls’ school, Kincoppal-Rose Bay, School of the Sacred Heart, in Australia, was among those killed. She was returning home from attending a retreat in Joigny in France.

«The first thing you think about her is an incredibly gentle personality,» Msgr. Tony Doherty, who knew her more than 30 years said. He described her as «one of those blithe gentle spirits that you never touch without coming away a little bit enriched.» Likewise, her school community was «devastated» by her loss, saying she was «much loved.» 

In addition, experts bound for the 20th International AIDS conference due to start in Melbourne on Sunday have been confirmed as among those killed in the crash. 

«What if the cure for AIDS was on that plane? Really, We don’t know,» said Canadian HIV researcher Trevor Stratton who was among delegates who arrived earlier for the Indigenous pre-conference on HIV and AIDs in Sydney. «You can’t help but wonder what kind of expertise was on that plane.»

The U.S. has pointedly criticized Russia’s arming of rebels in the Ukraine. The nation’s former secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, said this time «Putin has gone too far,» and has called on the EU to impose sanctions on Russia.

Today, in the strongest public suggestions yet for who was responsible, President Obama said the flight was taken down by missiles from an area within the Ukraine that is controlled by Russian-backed separatists. Reported in the New York Times, this suggested that Ukrainian separatist or Russian troops were the missile operators. (D.C.L.)

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