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Pope Francis was “deeply saddened” to learn of a devastating earthquake that struck western Japan on New Year’s Day, the Vatican said on Tuesday, with the pontiff extending his prayers and condolences to the country after dozens of deaths were reported.

The reported 7.6-magnitude quake struck Ishikawa Prefecture in the western part of the country. More than 50 people were reported dead as of Tuesday morning, with reports of tens of thousands of homes having been destroyed in the tremor.

In a telegram sent on behalf of  Pope Francis, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, secretary of state of the Vatican, said the Holy Father “was deeply saddened to learn of the loss of life and damage caused by the earthquake.”

The pope “assures everyone affected by this disaster of his heartfelt solidarity and spiritual closeness, and prays especially for the dead, those who mourn their loss, and for the rescue of any persons still missing,” the telegram said.

“The Holy Father offers encouragement to the civil authorities and emergency personnel as they assist the victims of this tragedy and willingly invokes upon all the divine blessings of consolation and strength,” the message concluded.

Vatican News reported on Tuesday that “a team from the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Japan is assessing the damage before the Church decides its response,” according to a statement from Tokyo Archbishop Tarcisio Kikuchi.

The deadly quake brought outpourings of support from leaders around the world. On Monday, President Joe Biden said in a statement that he and First Lady Jill Biden were “praying for the people of Japan who have been impacted by the terrible earthquake.” 

“My administration is in touch with Japanese officials, and the United States stands ready to provide any necessary assistance for the Japanese people,” Biden said. 

“As close allies, the United States and Japan share a deep bond of friendship that unites our people. Our thoughts are with the Japanese people during this difficult time.”

British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, meanwhile, said in a statement that his “thoughts are with all those affected by the earthquakes in Japan, which have caused such terrible damage.”

“Prime Minister Fumio Kishida is a great friend of the U.K., and we stand ready to support Japan and are monitoring developments closely,” Sunak said.

By Daniel Payne

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