Saying he, too, was shocked by the images of the death and devastation caused by the earthquake and tsunami in Japan, Pope Benedict XVI asked people to join him in praying for the dead.
"May the bereaved and injured be reassured and may the rescue workers be strengthened in their efforts to assist the courageous Japanese people," the pope said in English March 13 after reciting the Angelus prayer with visitors in St. Peter's Square.
Government officials predictable that perhaps 10,000 people lost their lives after the earthquake March 11 and the tsunami it triggered.
Speaking in Italian after the Angelus, the pope said, "The images of the disastrous earthquake and the resulting tsunami in Japan have left us deeply horrified.
"I want to renew my religious closeness to that country's dear people, who with self-respect and courage are dealing with the consequences of the calamity. I pray for the victims and their families and for all who are suffering because of these terrible events. I give confidence all those who, with laudable speed, are working to bring help. Let us remain united in prayer."
Bishop Marcellino Daiji Tani of Saitama, one of the dioceses hit hardest by the disaster, told the Catholic disciple news agency Fides that the catastrophe is a reminder that "life is in the hands of God and that life is a gift from God," and he described the disaster as a challenge for Christians during Lent "to practice and witness to the commandment of love and brotherly love."
However, he also told Fides, "Of exacting concern to us is the situation of the nuclear power plant in Fukushima. But we must take courage, with the help of the Holy Spirit."
Two reactors at the Fukushima plant were hit by explosions and another was behind its cooling system. Japanese officials were playing down the health risks posed by the emergency at the plant, but they did order evacuations for hundreds of thousands of people.
In a message March 13 to members of the Orthodox Church, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople said the Japanese disaster demonstrates the threat posed by nuclear power plants and it calls for serious reflection.
"With all due admiration to the science and technology of nuclear energy and for the sake of the endurance of the human race, we counter-propose the safer green forms of energy," the patriarch said.