Pope prays for Alitalia as 3rd rescue bid falters

ROME (Reuters) - Pope Benedict told the official in charge of the latest faltering rescue bid for Alitalia on Friday that he has been praying for the Italian airline.

Asked by Alitalia’s bankruptcy boss to say a “special prayer” for the loss-making airline, which has already defied two rescue attempts and now risks being liquidated, Benedict replied: “I have been praying for you for some time.”

Bankruptcy commissioner Augusto Fantozzi met the pope at Rome’s airport just before the pontiff boarded an Alitalia flight to France for a pilgrimage to Lourdes, whose spring waters are believed by Catholics to have healing powers.

The German-born pope, like pontiffs before him, always uses planes laid on by Alitalia AZPIa.MI for his trips abroad.

Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, fulfilling an election promise, has rallied Italian businesses to rescue the airline, which has not made a profit since 1999.

But as the deadline for a deal between the investors and unions worried about thousands of job losses passed on Thursday, unions were citing “insurmountable difficulties” and investors said conditions were “not right” for talks to go on.