HUALIEN, Taiwan — Pope Francis is sending his prayers to the victims of Taiwan’s earthquake and encouragement to rescue crews.

In a message of condolence Wednesday, Francis expressed his solidarity with the victims and offered “the assurance of his prayers for those who have lost their lives and for those who have been injured.”

At least six people were killed, 256 were injured and 76 could not be contacted after the shallow, magnitude 6.4 quake late Tuesday night.

The pope’s note carried political weight, given indications that China and the Holy See are near a breakthrough in a decades-long dispute over the nomination of bishops. China’s state-run Global Times newspaper said this week Beijing and the Vatican would establish diplomatic relations “sooner or later.”

The Holy See is the only European state that still has diplomatic relations with Taiwan, which China regards as a renegade province.

The People’s Republic of China broke off relations with the Vatican in 1951, which caused the Holy See to move its embassy to the Taiwan-based “Republic of China.”

At the time, the Taipei government held China’s seat at the United Nations, and was only replaced by the Beijing government at the world body in 1971.

It has promised to remain a “committed partner” of Taiwan, but just exactly what that would entail if it establishes diplomatic relations with Beijing is unclear.

China said it is prepared to send a rescue team to Taiwan after a strong earthquake struck near the island’s east coast.

China’s official Xinhua News Agency reported Wednesday that the director of China’s Taiwan Affairs office, Zhang Zhijun, said in a statement, “The compatriots across the straits are a family.” He said China “is willing to send a rescue team to Taiwan” to help with relief efforts, adding that he is aware of a shortage of rescue workers in the disaster area.

Crux staff contributed to this report.