Pope Francis led the crowds gathered in Saint Peter’s Square for the weekly Regina Caeli address in praying for the victims of Saturday’s earthquake in Nepal which has claimed thousands of lives.

“I wish to express my closeness to the populations struck by a powerful earthquake in Nepal and in neighboring countries,” he said, moments after reciting the Marian prayer. “I pray for the victims, for the wounded, and for all those who suffer because of this calamity. May they be sustained by fraternal solidarity.”

The Pope then lead the crowds in praying the Hail Mary for the victims.

At least 2,200 people have died and thousands more are wounded following a 7.8 earthquake which struck the south Asian nation on Saturday.

The epicenter of the quake was 80 km northwest of the country’s capital, Kathmandu, where it toppled a 100-year -old temple, split roads, and destroyed houses and buildings.

Earlier, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, Vatican secretary of state, sent a telegram on behalf of Pope Francis to the Bishop of the Apostolic Vicariate of Nepal, Paul Simick.

“His Holiness Pope Francis was deeply saddened to learn of the earthquake and the resultant loss of many hundreds of lives in Nepal, as well as in neighbouring countries,” the Cardinal wrote.

“He expresses his solidarity with all affected by this disaster and assures those who grieve for deceased family members of his closeness in prayer.”

The telegram said the Pope “commends the souls of the victims to the loving mercy of the Almighty.”

He then encouraged civil authorities and emergency personnel in their rescue efforts.

“Upon them all he invokes the blessings of the Almighty as a pledge of healing and consolation,” the telegram says.

The quake is reported to have caused avalanches in the Mount Everest region of the Himalayas at the peak of climbing season. At least 17 people were killed in the resulting avalanches, and more are still missing.

There are also reports of damages to the airport in Kathmandu, which could hinder initial relief efforts.

This is the second-worst earthquake in Nepal since 1934, when an 8.0 magnitude earthquake all but destroyed the cities of Kathmandu, Bhaktapur and Patan.