VATICAN CITY — Pope Francis said he is uniting himself in prayer with the victims of the unusual train explosion that killed at least 15 people and destroyed a section of a Quebec town’s center July 6.
“His Holiness Pope Francis unites himself through prayer in the anguish of the grieving families, and he entrusts the victims to the mercy of God, asking him to welcome them into his light,” he said in a message released July 9 by the Vatican.
“He expresses his deep sympathy to the injured persons and their families, to the emergency workers and to all the people around them, asking the Lord to support and comfort them in their hardship,” it said.
Pope Francis’ message was sent to the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops on July 8 by the Apostolic Nunciature in Ottawa, the equivalent of the Vatican Embassy in Canada.
The tragedy began unfolding early on Saturday morning in rural Quebec.
A Montreal, Maine & Atlantic Railway train carrying 72 cars of crude oil first received attention when a small fire was reported and extinguished by local firefighters in the town of Nantes.
At the time of the fire, there was no train engineer present, since he had retired for the night and set the brakes on the locomotive and several of the cars, according to the railway.
At some point after the fire was put out, the train’s brakes appear to have failed, causing it to roll down the 1.2% grade toward the 6,000-person town of Lac-Mégantic.
The train gathered speed until it reached 63 miles per hour, when it derailed and exploded in downtown Lac-Mégantic around 1:00am on July 6. The explosion and fire destroyed 30 buildings, including a store and the local public library.
Up to 35 people are still missing, and authorities say some bodies may have been incinerated in the inferno and will never be recovered. A criminal inquiry into the accident has been launched.
The papal letter also stated: “As a token of consolation, the Holy Father sends a special apostolic blessing to all persons touched by this tragedy.”