Pope appeals for China quake victims,offers prayers

Wed May 14, 2008 6:11am EDT

VATICAN CITY May 14 (Reuters) - Pope Benedict, speaking after a recent thaw in Vatican relations with communist China, on Wednesday prayed for the victims of the Sichuan quake.

"I ask you to join me in fervid prayer for all those who have lost their lives," he said at his weekly general audience in St Peter's Square.

"I am spiritually close to the people tried by such a devastating calamity ... may God grant strength to all those involved in the immediate needs of rescue work," he said.

The 7.9 magnitude earthquake, which struck the Sichuan area on Monday, has killed nearly 15,000 people with the toll likely to soar after state media said on Tuesday nearly 19,000 were buried under rubble in one city alone.

A Vatican source, meanwhile, said the Vatican was considering sending a financial contribution for relief efforts but still had not decided on the best way to send the money.

A week ago, Benedict reached out to communist China at an unprecedented concert by its national orchestra in the Vatican that the Church hopes can help end decades of icy relations with Beijing.

Benedict has made improving relations with Beijing a major goal of his pontificate.

Catholics in China are split between those who belong to a state-backed Church and an underground Church whose members are loyal to the Vatican. (Reporting by Philip Pullella; editing by Keith Weir)



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