Tuesday, September 02, 2008

That's how one ought to receive a blessing
Betancourt tells Pope of "miracle" in the jungle

ROME (Reuters) - Freed French-Colombian hostage Ingrid Betancourt hugged Pope Benedict on Monday and told him how she was overcome with emotion when she heard him appeal for her freedom on a radio broadcast during her seven years of captivity in the jungle.

Betancourt, who was rescued by the Colombian military in July from the hands of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), was watery-eyed at a news conference where she described her private meeting with Benedict hours before.

"The audience with the pope was a dream for me, to meet a being of light, of humanity or a very high level of human understanding," said Betancourt, who spoke of her intimate one-on-one conversation with the Catholic Church head.

"I didn't follow protocol because as soon as I walked in I embraced the pope, and maybe you are not supposed to embrace the pope," she said of her meeting with him at his summer residence south of Rome.

The 46-year-old, seized by guerrillas while campaigning for Colombia's presidency, said Benedict became a direct source of hope when, after a typical day of forced marching through the jungle, she heard him speak on the radio.

"As soon as I switched the radio on, I heard the voice of the pope who was saying my name. You cannot imagine what this can mean to a person in my situation, a prisoner, to understand you have not been forgotten."

Pope Benedict made a number of appeals for her release and that of other hostages.
Although a Catholic, Betancourt said she had never read the Bible -- "a dusty old book" -- before her capture, but then had the time to read it "20,000 times" and now considered it a life guide. "There's an instruction manual for happiness and it's called the Bible," she said.

She told the pope how she had prayed for a miracle, asking God not to free her but to send her a sign of when she would be freed, something she felt was essential to save her from despair.

Soon after that, one of her captors told her some hostages may be released to a visiting group from an "international commission." Betancourt was among the hostages freed in an operation which was, in reality, conducted by the Colombian security forces.

"When I told the pope this, he replied: 'He heard you because you knew how to ask. You didn't ask for a miracle to be freed yourself, instead you asked to understand what was His will."'

When asked about her future plans, Betancourt did not rule out a return to politics in Colombia, but said her priority was to form a group of people to work for the liberation of other hostages there and around the world.
(Editing by Mark Trevelyan)

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