VATICAN CITY – Pope Benedict XVI told pilgrims and tourists in St. Peter's Square on Sunday that he is praying for the families of the 20 children and six adults who were killed during a shooting rampage at a U.S. school.
Speaking in English, Benedict said he was "deeply saddened by Friday's senseless violence in Newtown, Connecticut."
"I assure the families of the victims, especially those who lost a child, of my closeness in prayer," the pope said in his first public comments on the massacre by a lone gunman. "May the God of consolation touch their hearts and ease their pain."
On Saturday, the Vatican said that Benedict was promptly informed about the shootings and that he sent a condolence message to the diocese involved to convey "heartfelt grief" over "the shocking event."
In that message, the pontiff prayed that God "sustain the entire community with spiritual strength which triumphs over violence by the power of forgiveness, hope and reconciling love."
In his traditional Sunday appearance from his studio window overlooking St. Peter's Square, adorned by a tall Christmas tree, Benedict said that as the holiday approaches "let us dedicate ourselves more fervently to prayer and to acts of peace."
He then invoked "God's abundant blessings" upon those "affected by this tragedy."