MOSCOW, OCT. 27, 2002 (Zenit.org).- Catholic Church leaders in Russia and Rome pleaded for peace in the wake of the Moscow theater siege that ended in the deaths of 117 hostages.
Addressing crowds gathered today at the Vatican, John Paul II said: “Let us invoke today, in particular, the intercession of the Virgin so loved by the Russian people, who in these last days have suffered so much.”
“While we pray for the victims of the recent and painful ordeal, let us pray to the holy Virgin so that such events will not be repeated,” the Pope added.
Vatican spokesman Joaquín Navarro-Valls said that during the Moscow siege by Chechen captors, John Paul II was constantly informed on the situation by Monsignor Celestino Migliore, Vatican undersecretary for relations with states. The monsignor was in the Russian capital on a diplomatic mission.
Moscow’s chief physician Andrei Seltsovsky said today that all but one of the 117 hostages who died during the Saturday rescue operation were killed by the effects of gas used to subdue their captors, the Associated Press reported, quoting the Interfax news agency. Seltsovky told Interfax that 646 people were in the hospital, including 150 who were in intensive care wards, AP said.
Fifty terrorists, including 18 women, also died during the rescue operation by Russian special forces.
For his part, Metropolitan Archbishop Thaddeus Kondrusiewicz, president of the Conference of Catholic Bishops of Russia, issued a statement expressing the “relief and grief, prayer and hope” felt by the federation’s Catholics in the wake of the siege.
“Today, in all Russian Catholic parishes, prayers are being raised to the all-merciful Lord for the repose of the souls of those who have died, for consolation for their relatives and friends, for the speedy recovery of the injured, for spiritual strength for those who survived so terrible a crime, as well as for the restoration of peace and understanding in Russia,” said the message issued by the bishops’ information office.
The statement also appeals to Russian citizens “to control their emotions and not take revenge for their pain on our innocent brothers and sisters of a different background and faith.”
Archbishop Kondrusiewicz urged all citizens, especially government authorities, “to do their utmost to stop the escalation of tension in society on the political, interreligious and ethnic levels.”
“May the one and only Creator grant us all wisdom and hope, may he preserve our country from such terrible events, and set us [on] the path of peace and well-being,” the message concluded.