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Pope Benedict XVI offers prayers for victims of Japan's earthquake, tsunamis

The Associated Press
Friday, March 11, 2011; 1:54 PM

VATICAN CITY -- The Vatican says Pope Benedict XVI is praying for those who died in Japan's major earthquake and consequent tsunamis.

The Vatican said the pope is "deeply saddened by the sudden and tragic" affects of the natural catastrophe, and is invoking "divine blessings of strength and consolation" on grieving friends and families.

Hundreds were dead or missing following Friday's 8.9 magnitude earthquake - the largest in Japan's history.

The pope also expressed solidarity with those providing rescue, relief and support.

Vatican secretary of state Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone relayed papal condolences in the message to the head of the Japanese bishop's conference, Leo Jun Ikenaga.

Only 1 percent of Japanese are Christians, but Catholics play an influential role in areas such as education.

© 2011 The Associated Press