ROME – One day after a massive explosion ravaged the port of Beirut, shattering windows for miles and covering the surrounding area in clouds of smoke, Pope Francis offered prayers for the victims and their families and asked the international community to help Lebanon overcome its internal crisis.

“Yesterday in Beirut, in the area of the port, strong explosions caused dozens of deaths and thousands of wounded, and many serious damages,” the pope said Wednesday at the close of his weekly general audience.

He offered prayers for those who have died and their families and asked that faithful join him in praying for Lebanon, “So that with all of its social components, political and religious, it can face this tragic and painful moment, and with the help of the international community, overcome the serious crises it is undergoing.”

Francis’s appeal came the day after at least 100 people were killed and 4,000 others injured when an explosion rocked the port of Lebanon. The whole city shook from the impact of the blast, and numerous videos taken showed a large mushroom cloud rising and spreading over the port area.

In the wake of the blast, Lebanese President Michel Aoun said the explosion was caused by some 2,750 tons of ammonium nitrate which had been stored unsafely inside of a warehouse. The chemical is frequently used as a fertilizer and as an explosive.

Aoun has declared three days of national mourning, starting Wednesday. He has also called an emergency cabinet meeting for Wednesday, saying a two-week state of emergency ought to be declared.

Tuesday’s explosion exacerbates an already dire situation for Lebanon, which has been crippled by the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic and by a financial crisis that risks bringing the country to its knees.

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In an Aug. 5 statement, the Assembly of the Catholic Ordinaries of the Holy Land said they are following the situation in Lebanon “with great concern and sorrow.”

“We raise our prayers for the souls of the deceased and for recovery of the injured,” they said, “and we pray for stability and prosperity of Lebanon and express our solidarity with all its citizens in these difficult times.”

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