Pope Francis prayed for victims of the earthquake in Turkey and Syria during his general audience on Feb. 8, 2023. / Daniel Ibanez/CNA

Vatican City, Feb 8, 2023 / 02:56 am (CNA).

Pope Francis concluded his public audience on Wednesday with a prayer for the intercession of the Virgin Mary for the thousands of victims of a deadly earthquake in Turkey and Syria.

“Let’s pray together so that these brothers and sisters can move forward from this tragedy. And we pray that Our Lady will protect them,” the pope said in the Vatican’s Paul VI Hall on Feb. 8.

He then led pilgrims at the event in praying a Hail Mary for all those affected.

A series of large earthquakes in parts of Turkey and Syria Feb. 6 have created massive destruction and killed an estimated 9,600 people, according to the latest available estimates reported by Reuters early Wednesday morning.

“With deep feeling I pray for them and express my closeness to these peoples, to the families of the victims, and to all those who suffer because of this devastating natural disaster,” the pope said.

“I thank all those who are working to bring assistance and encouragement to them,” he added, “and solidarity to those areas, in part already tormented by a long war.”

On Monday, a “deeply saddened” Pope Francis sent “heartfelt condolences to those who mourn their loss” in telegrams addressed to the apostolic nuncios of Turkey and Syria after the earthquake.

Francis’ topic for his Feb. 8 general audience address was his Jan. 31–Feb. 5 visit to the Democratic Republic of Congo and South Sudan, which he called a “long-desired journey.”

The trip fulfilled “two ‘dreams,’” he said: “To visit the Congolese people, custodians of an immense country, the green heart of Africa and second in the world along with Amazonia. A land rich in resources and bloodied by a war that never ends, because there is always someone to feed the fire.”

“And,” he added, “to visit the South Sudanese people, in a pilgrimage of peace together with the archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, and the moderator general of the Church of Scotland, Iain Greenshields: We went together to bear witness that it is possible and a duty to collaborate in diversity, especially if one shares faith in Christ.”