VATICAN CITY (CNS) – As the death fluctuated from the massive tornado that struck near Oklahoma City May 20, Pope Francis offered a special prayer for the victims during his early morning Mass May 21, offered his condolences through his Twitter account and through a message to the city's archbishop.
"Let us pray for the victims ... and the missing, especially the children, struck by the violent tornado that hit Oklahoma City yesterday. Hear us, O Lord," the pope said during the prayers of the faithful at his morning Mass in the chapel of the Domus Sanctae Marthae where he lives.
The tornado touched down at about 3 p.m. local time in Oklahoma and reportedly stayed on the ground for more than 40 minutes, leaving a 20-mile path of death and destruction. Dozens of people were reported killed, and the death toll was expected to rise. Two elementary schools were struck by the tornado.
A few hours after the Mass, Pope Francis also used his @Pontifex Twitter account to express his concern for the Oklahoma victims and survivors.
"I am close to the families of all who died in the Oklahoma tornado, especially those who lost young children. Join me in praying for them," he told the 2.5 million people who follow his English-language Twitter account and the 2.4 million who follow his Spanish-language account.
Later in the day, the Vatican released a message to Oklahoma City Archbishop Paul S. Coakley, signed by Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, Vatican secretary of state.
The cardinal said Pope Francis "has followed with deep concern the aftermath of the devastating tornado which has struck Oklahoma," and he asked the archbishop to convey "to the entire community the assurance of his solidarity and closeness in prayer."
"Conscious of the tragic loss of life and the immensity of the work of rebuilding that lies ahead," Cardinal Bertone said Pope Francis "asks almighty God to grant eternal rest to the departed, comfort to the afflicted, and strength and hope to the homeless and the injured."
"In a particular way he commends to the Father of mercies the many young children among the victims and their grieving families," the message said.
"Upon the local civil and religious leaders, and upon all involved in the relief efforts, His Holiness invokes the risen Lord's gifts of consolation, strength and perseverance in every good," it said.