Pope Francis offered prayers and condolences to the victims of a fire in an Orthodox Church that took the lives of 41 people -- including 18 children -- who died in a fire in Egypt's capital, Cairo.

In a telegram sent on the pope's behalf Aug. 18 to Coptic Orthodox Pope Tawadros II of Alexandria, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, Vatican secretary of state, said Pope Francis was "deeply saddened" by the fire, which also claimed the life of Coptic Orthodox Bishop Abdul Bakhit.

According to news reports, at least 5,000 Coptic Christians were preparing for the morning liturgy Aug. 14 at the Martyr Abu Sefein Church in Imbaba, a suburban area of the city, when the fire started. The deaths resulted from an ensuing stampede and smoke inhalation.

"In offering heartfelt condolences and the assurance of spiritual closeness to the injured and those affected by this tragedy, His Holiness entrusts the victims and their families to the merciful love of almighty God and invokes upon all consolation and strength in the Lord," the telegram read.

Eyewitnesses said of some screaming worshippers jumped out of windows, as the fire spread to higher floors of the church building.

Egypt's Interior Ministry said Aug. 16 that a forensic examination revealed the fire was caused by an electrical malfunction in the church's second floor air conditioning, news agencies reported.