ROME — As La Soufrière volcano on the Caribbean island of St. Vincent continued erupting, belching out gas and thick ash, which forced the evacuation of tens of thousands of people, Pope Francis offered his prayers.

“His Holiness Pope Francis sends the assurance of his spiritual closeness to all those affected by the recent eruption of La Soufrière volcano and expresses his heartfelt solidarity with the many displaced persons forced to evacuate their homes and seek shelter from the effects of this disaster,” said a telegram sent to local church leaders by Cardinal Pietro Parolin, Vatican secretary of state.

“Praying in a particular way for the emergency personnel and volunteers providing relief assistance, His Holiness entrusts the people of St. Vincent and the Grenadines to the loving providence of almighty God,” said the message released by the Vatican April 23.

In December, lava began oozing from the volcano, which is located at the northern tip of the island. Then it erupted April 9, and explosions have been occurring periodically since then.

With the eruptions continuing, ash lies thick over much of the island, making it dangerous to breath and severely damaging crops and drinking water supplies.

The United Nations made an appeal April 20 for close to $30 million in disaster relief to provide emergency aid to the people and to help fund the ash removal.