updated 9/30/2005 6:42:48 AM ET 2005-09-30T10:42:48

A bus carrying high school students on a pilgrimage to Poland’s most sacred Roman Catholic shrine collided with a truck and burst into flames Friday, killing 12 people, authorities said.

The bus was carrying students in their final year of high school from the northeastern city of Bialystok to Czestochowa in southern Poland, the home of the renowned Jasna Gora shrine, said Zlotka Korzeniewska, the school principal.

About 60 people were on board when the bus hit a truck from Warsaw head-on, 20 miles into their trip, said Jacek Dobrzynski, a spokesman for Bialystok police. The force of the impact spun the bus around and caused it to catch fire, Dobrzynski said.

Most of the 12 people killed were students, said Boguslaw Hryniewicki, a fire department spokesman. Dobrzynski said more than 20 passengers overall were hospitalized.

Czestochowa, a 14th century monastery, attracts millions of pilgrims every year, some of them walking hundreds of kilometers, others taking buses or trains to pray before the revered painting of the Black Madonna.

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