Missing toddler's mum joins locals at church service

Missing toddler's mum joins locals at church service
John Bingham
7 May 2007
Aberdeen Press & Journal

The mother of missing tot Madeleine McCann knelt and wept in church yesterday as she prayed for her safe return. Kate McCann lined up with Portuguese women to lay flowers at the foot of the statue of the Virgin Mary in the village church in Praia Da Luz on the Algarve at a poignant service to honour motherhood.

Accompanied by her husband Gerry and relatives who have flown out from Glasgow and other parts of the UK, Mrs McCann attended mass with the local community to pray for Madeleine's safe return three days after her disappearance.

The three-year-old vanished from the family's holiday apartment where she was sleeping with her younger siblings, twins Amelie and Sean, while their parents had dinner nearby on Thursday night. Portuguese police believe she was snatched but offered hope saying they think she is alive.

With police stopping cars on nearby roads, search teams scouring the surrounding countryside and airports across the country on alert, police say they believe she is still in Portugal.

In a public display of unity, the family attended the church of Nossa Senora Da Luz on the day the congregation were marking mother's day - a date made more poignant by the events of last week. As children presented flowers to their mothers, 14-year-old Emily Seromenho, whose own mother is English, walked forward to hand five roses to a visibly moved Mrs McCann. As the women then lined up to lay their flowers at the foot of a statue of the Virgin Mary, Mrs McCann joined them walking to the front of the church. Laying the roses, she paused to gaze up at the image.

Emily, whose mother Sarah comes from Ascot, Berkshire, said afterwards:
"The priest asked me to go and get the lady the flowers and I went and gave her the flowers.

"I felt that she was very, very sad, she was crying a lot and I felt sad as well.

"I just said that when it was a part of the service for her to give the flowers to Mary at the top for her to give them in.

"She just said thank you."
Up to 200 villagers packed the tiny 16th century church.

As Madeleine's parents came into the church, accompanied by her grandparents, uncles and aunts, Mrs McCann clutched the same small pink cuddly toy which she has carried every time she has appeared in public since her daughter disappeared. She knelt silently for almost 10 minutes, praying and kissing the kitten-like toy.

In halting English, Father Jose Manuel Pacheco said:
"We are here like all Sundays and today we have a very big intention, we want to be with this family, the family of Madeleine.

"We are with the family, the parish, since the first moment of the event."
Pictures of Madeleine have been fixed to church notices.

Among the congregation was the British ambassador to Portugal, John Buck.

As the service ended, the priest told the McCanns: "We are with you, courage, courage, courage." Afterwards the villagers, many weeping, queued to hug and kiss the couple. Fr Pacheco told the family that the entire community was united with them.

Mrs McCann bravely stood to address reporters, breaking down with emotion. She said:
"Gerry and I would just like to express our sincere gratitude and thanks to everybody but particularly the local community here who have offered so much support. "We couldn't have asked for more. Please continue to pray for Madeleine."

Her husband told how the family still had hope.
"From today's service the thing that we are going to take away is strength and courage and hope and we continue to hope for the best outcome from this for us and for Madeleine."
A spokesman for Mark Warner Holidays, which operates the Ocean Bay Club resort where the McCanns have been staying, said the family would spend the rest of the day in quiet reflection following the service. He said the company had flown over two specialist counsellors who had been helping the couple work through the traumatic past few days. "They have got a lot of support from relatives and they are finding comfort from that."

Meanwhile, the number of volunteers searching for the toddler dwindled yesterday, but organisers insisted there was no question of calling off efforts. Dave Shelton, a Manchester man, now resident in the village, who has been co-ordinating the search volunteers, said that he had spent the day with a small group of around 20 searching forest areas behind the beach. On Friday there were as many as 500 volunteers, but Mr Shelton said organisers had been collecting contact numbers from people offering to help and allocating them to areas. He is hoping there will be more searchers today.

Last night a group of 21 villagers, including a handful of children, met the McCanns in their apartment to say the Rosary together. The group spent around 45 minutes with the couple. The gathering was organised through the local church.

Emily Seromenho, who had earlier handed Mrs McCann the bunch of flowers, said afterwards:
"We just prayed the words of the church and said to Maddy's father that we were all praying for them and we think from our hearts that she is going to appear. "They were sitting there and praying as well with us."

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