CNS PHOTO | YOMIURI SHIMBUN | REUTERS
A civil defense officer holds a four-month-old girl who was rescued along with her family from their home in Ishimaki, Japan March 14.
VATICAN CITY — Saying he, too, was horrified by the images of the death and destruction caused by the earthquake and tsunami in Japan, Pope Benedict asked people to join him in praying for the victims.
"May the bereaved and injured be comforted and may the rescue workers be strengthened in their efforts to assist the courageous Japanese people," the pope said March 13 after reciting the Angelus with visitors in St. Peter's Square.
Officials estimated that perhaps 10,000 people lost their lives after the earthquake March 11 and the tsunami it triggered.
The pope said, "The images of the tragic earthquake and the consequent tsunami in Japan have left us deeply horrified.
"I want to renew my spiritual closeness to that country's dear people, who with dignity 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 encourage all those who, with laudable speed, are working to bring help. Let us remain united in prayer."
The Pontifical Council Cor Unum, the Vatican's charity coordinating office, said the pope donated $100,000 to the relief efforts of the Japanese bishops' conference.
"Obviously, material, concrete aid is necessary" to help the thousands who are suffering, Msgr. Anthony Figueiredo, a Cor Unum official, told Vatican Radio March 14.
"The Church wants to be there not only in the short term but especially in the long term."
CNS PHOTO | REUTERS | KYODO
A woman weeps after being told of the death of relatives at an evacuation centre in Kesennuma, Japan, March 15.
Bishop Marcellino Daiji Tani of Saitama, one of the dioceses hit hardest by the disaster, said the catastrophe is a reminder that "life is in the hands of God and that life is a gift from God."
Two reactors at the Fukushima plant were hit by explosions and another was losing its cooling system. Japanese officials ordered hundreds of thousands of people to evacuate.
Bishop Martin Tetsuo Hiraga of Sendai, the diocese most affected by the quake and tsunami, said many area residents, cut off without electricity and with some phone service just restored, were unaware of the worsening situation at the Fukushima plant.
"You living in other countries have a much better idea of the tragedy," the bishop told Vatican Radio March 15.
"We are terrified," the bishop said. "We only have the government announcements; we have no other source of information.
"We don't even know what has happened to our parishes in the towns and villages along the coast. We have no way of contacting them."
In a message March 13, Orthodox Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople said the Japanese tragedy demonstrates the threat posed by nuclear power plants.
"Our Creator granted us the gifts of the sun, wind, water and ocean, all of which may safely and sufficiently provide energy.
"Therefore we ask: Why do we persist in adopting such dangerous sources of energy?"