Monday May 28, 2007

By David Pilditch and Matt Drake in Praia da Luz

THE parents of missing Madeleine McCann are to meet the Pope, it was revealed last night.

Gerry and Kate McCann, both Roman Catholics, could be granted an audience with Benedict XVI as early as Wednesday.

They are also to meet former England captain David Beckham in Madrid as part of their trip to Europe to raise awareness of their campaign to find Madeleine.

The couple have been attending mass every day, praying for the safe return of four-year-old Madeleine.

The meeting with the Pope was set up after talks between the Vatican and senior officials of the Roman Catholic church in Britain.

News of the move came as the key witness in the abduction has told how she is tormented by guilt after failing to save the youngster from the kidnapper.

The witness, a close friend of the Gerry and Kate, is a woman who was among eight couples the McCanns had gone on holiday with in Praia da Luz, Portugal.

She saw a man rushing off with Madeleine under his arm, just yards away from the apartment where the family were staying. But she did not realise the significance of what she had seen.

It was only when distraught Kate, 38, raised the alarm half an hour later that it became clear the woman was the last person to see Madeleine alive.

She had briefly left the table as the McCanns and their party ate at a tapas restaurant in the Ocean Club complex, just 40 yards from their apartment.

The witness told police: “I definitely saw the abduction. I can’t live with myself. I am tormented by guilt and will have to live with that for the rest of my life.”

The McCanns plan to travel to Rome on Tuesday night. They have been offered the use of two private jets by wealthy benefactors.

A family source said: “Kate does not want to be away from the twins for any length of time and she does not want to leave Portugal. She is determined to stay here as a base until Madeleine is found.”

The Pope is said to have agreed to a meeting after being deeply moved by the couple’s plight. They will have a private meeting and it is expected that the Pope will make a public address, saying prayers for Madeleine.

Yesterday morning, the couple looked tired and drawn as they held hands and strolled away from a mass at Praia da Luz’s Catholic church.

They had already visited Portugal’s holiest shrine at Fatima, to pray for Madeleine.

A source in Portugal said last night: “The McCanns have found their faith a great source of comfort. They are pleased that the Pope has agreed to provide further spiritual guidance.

“They will be introduced to the Holy Father, who has been kept informed of the progress of their campaign to find Madeleine.

“It’s highly unusual to be granted an audience of this nature. It also serves another purpose, of keeping the campaign in the consciousness of Europeans.”

Foreign Office liaison officer Clarence Mitchell is helping to plan the trip. He said: “I can confirm that approaches have been made to Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor and to the British ambassador to the Holy See.

“We are certainly exploring the possibility of Gerry and Kate McCann visiting Rome to meet the Pope in the near future.”

The couple also plan to visit Madrid, Seville, Berlin and Amsterdam to keep their campaign in the public eye. They hope to meet Beckham in the Spanish capital and thank him for backing their campaign after he made a video appeal.

Police last night were investigating another possible sighting of the suspect on the night Madeleine was snatched – this time a man with a woman and child.

Local Jose Francisco, 72, said: “A couple with a girl in a car went the wrong way down a one-way street. He was making many dangerous manoeuvres.’’

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