updated 9/4/2005 5:44:10 PM ET 2005-09-04T21:44:10

Pope Benedict XVI offered his prayers Sunday to the victims of Hurricane Katrina and his blessings to those helping in the recovery.

“These days we are all pained by the disaster caused by the hurricane in the United States of America,” Benedict XVI said, delivering his traditional Sunday blessing from his summer residence in Castel Gandolfo, in the hills south of Rome. “I want to ensure my prayer for the dead and their relatives, for the wounded without a roof, for the sick, the children, the elderly and I bless those who are busy with the difficult rescue and rebuilding operation.”

Benedict XVI said he had charged the Vatican’s charity organization, Cor Unum, with bringing to “the stricken population the testimony of my solidarity.”

The pope said his thoughts also went to the Iraqis who witnessed the death of hundreds of their compatriots Wednesday as a result of an “unstoppable” panic — most of them elderly, women and children.

Almost 1,000 Shiite pilgrims died and hundreds of others were injured during the stampede on the Imam’s Bridge in northern Baghdad. Many were trampled and crushed to death, but others drowned after falling 30 feet into the Tigris River. The panic was a result of rumors that a suicide bomber was in the crowd.

“Would it be so that the almighty would touch everyone’s heart, so that finally a climate of reconciliation and reciprocal trust can take hold in that tormented country,” Benedict said.

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