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Catholics stunned by Beslan tragedy

Participants in a major summit of the Italian-based St Egidio Community are struggling to make sense of the tragedy of the terrorist massacre of Russian children in the town of Beslan.

About 100 speakers at the international event taking place this week in Milan have joined in condemnation of the Beslan massacre. The conference is devoted to the role of religion in restoring a humane approach to world politics.

Russian Orthodox Bishop Feofan Achourkov, whose Stavropol diocese includes the town of Beslan, captured the attention of the international gathering with a plea for concerted international action against terrorism.

All religious and civil leaders, he said, should stand together in clear opposition to "the evil of terrorism, which can strike in New York, as in Madrid, in Beslan, and who knows where else?"

Bishop Achourkov disclosed that Russian religious leaders had offered mediation in Beslan, but the terrorists refused any form of negotiation.

He insisted that the terrorists responsible for the Breslan massacre did not represent mainstream Islamic belief. And that insistence was backed by Bishop Claudio Gugerotti, the apostolic nuncio in the Caucasus, who told Vatican Radio that local Muslim leaders were insisting that they did not support the terrorists, and seeking to avoid religious conflict.

Meanwhile the head of Russia's Orthodox church has urged President Vladimir Putin to maintain the country's "peace and security" after a bloodbath at the Beslan school siege in southern Russia which left at least 330 people, many of them children, dead.

"News of the unprecedented brutality of the bandits who seized civilian residents, women and children in a school of Beslan, has shaken the entire world community," said Patriarch Alexei II in a message to Putin about the attack which has been denounced by Christian and Muslim religious leaders worldwide.

Pope John Paul II quickly moved to condemn the seige. In a telegram sent on Saturday, he send his "most heartfelt sympathy to the Russian people".

The Vatican newspaper L'Osservatore Romano had earlier condemned the "pitiless blackmail" tactics employed by the terrorists.

Yesterday Primate of All Ireland, Archbishop Seán Brady, wrote to Archbishop Tadeusz Kondrusiewicz, head of the archdiocese "Mother of God in Moscow" and president of the Russian bishops' conference, expressing solidarity "during these painful days in the aftermath of the hostage taking and destruction of life that occurred last week during the Beslan school siege".

Other messages from Catholic leaders around the world are expected in coming days.

Iraq, Beslan dominate talk at St. Egidio conference (Catholic World News 6/9/04)
Religious leaders revile Russian school massacre (Ecumenical News International 6/9/04)
Pope condemns Russian school seige (Independent Catholic News 6/9/04)
L'Osservatore condemns Russian terror "blackmail" (Catholic World News 3/9/04)
Press Release - 6th September (Irish Bishops' Conference)

St. Egidio: On Beslan, Eparch Azhurkov at XVIII meeting 'religions and Culture'/Part1 (Missionary Service News Agency 6/9/04)
St. Egidio: 'The courage to forge a new humanism', intervention of founder/Part2 (Missionary Service News Agency 6/9/04)
Community of St Egidio | Flash dal Meeting
Pope prays for Beslan school dead at Italy Mass (Reuters 6/9/04)
Pope hopes "spiral of hatred and violence" will not prevail after Russian crisis (Catholic News Agency 6/9/04)
Russians mourn the victims of Beslan ( 6/9/04)
Pope hopes "spiral of hatred and violence" will not prevail after Russian crisis (Catholic News Agency 6/9/04)
Pope sorrow for Ossetia victims (CathNews 6/9/04)

7 Sep 2004