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V20171113T1029 0227 CNS POPE QUAKE IRAN IRAQ 800A woman mourns next to a dead body following an earthquake in Sarpol-e Zahab, Iran, Nov. 13. The Nov. 12 earthquake killed more than 400 people and injured more than 6,000 in Iran and Iraq. (CNS photo/Tasnim News Agency via Reuters) ATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Pope Francis sent messages of condolence to people in Iran and Iraq after a magnitude 7.3 earthquake killed more than 400 people, mostly in Iran.

The pope "assures all affected by this tragedy of his prayerful solidarity," said the nearly identical messages, released Nov. 13.

"In expressing his sorrow to all who mourn the loss of their loved ones, he offers his prayers for the deceased and commends them to the mercy of the almighty," said the telegrams, signed by Cardinal Pietro Parolin, Vatican secretary of state.

As he often does in emergencies, Pope Francis also asked for the "blessings of consolation and strength" for first responders and civil authorities.

The U.S. Geological Survey said the Nov. 12 quake was centered 19 miles outside Halabja, Iraq. It was felt as far west as the Mediterranean coast.

The hardest-hit area was Iran's western Kermanshah province, which sits in the Zagros Mountains that divide Iran and Iraq. The Associated Press reported residents in the rural area rely mainly on farming to make a living.

Caritas MONA, the regional branch of the church's charitable aid agency in the Middle East and North Africa, sent tweets asking people to join Caritas Iran and Caritas Iraq in prayers for those affected.

"Our thoughts and prayers are with our brothers & sisters in Iraq and Iran following yesterday's devastating earthquake that hit the border region," said another tweet Nov. 13.

alertAt the Spring Assembly of the U.S. bishops, Cardinal Joseph Tobin suggested that a delegation ofbishops go to the border to see for themselves what was happening to newly arrived immigrants, families and children. On July 1 and 2, Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, president of the U.S. bishops conference, and five other bishops conducted a pastoral visit to the diocese of Brownsville, Texas. Stops included Mass at the Shrine of Our Lady of San Juan del Valle with the community, a visit to anHHS/OBR Shelter and Mass for the families there, a visit to the Customs and Border Patrol processing center in McAllen, TX, and a press conference at the end of their visit. Catholic News Service accompanied the bishops on their border trip. 

  1. Backgrounder and analysis of the bishops’ trip to the border: Cardinal DiNardo told CNS, “You cannot look at immigration as an abstraction when you meet” the people behind the issue.
  2. At final press conference, Cardinal Daniel Dinardo said the church was willing to be part of any conversation to find humane solutions because even a policy of detaining families together in facilities caused “concern.”
  3. Bishops serve soup to immigrant families at a center run by Catholic Charities and listen to their stories. Scranton Bishop Joseph Bambera said he found hope in hearing the people in the room talk about what’s ahead. They didn’t speak of making money but of finding safety for their children, he said, driven by “the most basic instinct to protect your family.”
  4. At an opening Mass he Basilica of Our Lady of San Juan del Valle-National Shrine near McAllen, Texas, Bishop Daniel Flores of Brownsville told Massgoers, “The bishops are visiting here so they can stop and look and talk to people and understand, especially the suffering of many who are amongst us,”

A delegation of U.S. bishops goes on a fact-finding mission at the U.S.-Mexican border to learn more about Central American immigration detention.

Following their visit to an immigrant detention center, U.S. bishops said they are even more determined to call on Congress for comprehensive immigration reform.