The Vatican said on Tuesday that Pope Francis is praying for the more than 60 people killed in a fire in a coronavirus isolation ward at a hospital in the southern Iraqi city of Nasiriyah.
“His Holiness Pope Francis sends the assurance of his spiritual closeness to all affected by the tragic fire at the COVID isolation ward of the al-Hussein hospital in Nasiriyah,” said the telegram sent on the pope’s behalf by Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin.
“Deeply saddened, he prays especially for those who have died and for the comfort of their families and friends who mourn their loss.”
Pope Francis visited Nasiriyah briefly during his historic visit to Iraq. He traveled to the city’s airport on March 6, between his landmark meeting with Iraq’s top Shiite cleric Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani and his visit to the Plain of Ur, the birthplace of Abraham.
Iraqi medical officials told the Associated Press on July 13 that 64 people had so far died as a result of the fire at the al-Hussein Teaching Hospital, with more than 100 others injured.
The AP reported that the ward, containing 70 beds, opened three months ago.
The authorities have not announced the cause of the fire, which began on the night of July 12, but sources have told journalists that they believe it began with an oxygen cylinder explosion.
In April, more than 80 people were killed in a fire at a hospital in the capital Baghdad started by an exploding oxygen tank.
Pope Francis prayed for the victims after his Regina Coeli address on April 25.
“As of now, there are 82 people who have died,” he said. “Let us pray for all of them.”
Iraq, which has a population of 39 million people, has recorded more than 1.4 million cases of COVID-19 and over 17,000 deaths as of July 13, according to the Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center.
The papal telegram, addressed to Archbishop Mitja Leskovar, the apostolic nuncio in Iraq, concluded: “Upon the patients, staff, and caregivers [the pope] invokes God’s blessings of consolation, strength, and peace.”