ROME — Pope Francis on Friday joined the chorus of shock over the car bomb slaying of Maltese investigative journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia, sending a note expressing his condolences to the overwhelmingly Catholic island nation.

Popes often send telegrams of condolences after deadly natural disasters or the deaths of prominent world leaders. Rarely does the death of a private citizen elicit a formal letter of condolence signed by the Vatican secretary of state in the pope’s name.

In the telegram sent Friday, Francis said he was “saddened by the tragic death” of Caruana Galizia and was praying for her family, the Maltese people and the nation as a whole “at this difficult moment.”

Malta has been stunned by Monday’s slaying of Caruana Galizia, an anti-corruption investigative reporter whose targets included Malta’s leading politicians.

Daphne Caruana Galizia on April 4, 2016. (Credit: Jon Borg/AP.)

The letter of condolence was addressed to Maltese Archbishop Charles Scicluna, a longtime Vatican official before he was made a bishop in his homeland in 2012. Scicluna has condemned the “brutal murder” and appealed for “a unified resolve to promote true democracy.

“This is not a time to wage war between us or to blame one another. As a people we must wake up, defend the dignity of each one of us, and stop the verbal attacks on each other. We must defend the central value of democracy by moving from words to actions,” Scicluna told Vatican Radio shortly after Caruana Galizia’s murder.

“I pray for the soul of this victim and her family, and extend my solidarity to all journalists. I encourage you to defend the truth, to be afraid of no one and to be servants of the people and democracy,” the archbishop said.

Malta’s reputation as a tax haven, its cozy links with nearby lawless Libya, and its legal passports-for-sale program were just some of the topics that the investigative reporter had dug into before her death.

Maltese Prime Minister Joseph Muscat has denounced the assassination and has proposed a reward to find her killers. He pledged to leave “no stone unturned” in the investigation, which is being assisted by the FBI, Scotland Yard, Europol and Dutch forensic experts.

Crux staff contributed to this report.