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Pope Francis offers prayers and solidarity in wake of Colombia plane crash

Rescue workers stand at the wreckage site of a chartered airplane that crashed in a mountainous area outside Medellin, Colombia (AP)

Pope Francis has sent a message of condolence following a plane crash that left 71 people dead, including members of the Brazilian football team.

The team, Chapecoense, were travelling to play in the first leg of the final of the Copa Sudamericana in Colombia when the crash occurred.

In the telegram, signed by Vatican Secretary of State, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, a message to Bishop Fidel Leon Cadavid Marin of Sonson-Rionegro said the Pope was “deeply distressed knowing the painful news of the grave accident with numerous victims” and that the Holy Father “lifts up his prayers for the eternal rest of the deceased,” Catholic News Agency reports.

Cardinal Parolin added: “I also ask your excellency to transmit the condolences of His Holiness to the family and to those who mourn such a great loss, together with expression of affection, solidarity, and comfort to those wounded and affected by this tragic event”

Bishop Cadavid said God “would bless and accompany the families of the deceased” and give them comfort in a “difficult situation”.

“We express our most profound sentiment of sadness with the families of the persons who lost their lives in this fatal accident; we encourage the survivors and all the athlets of the world to follow, as Pope Francis says, in the construction of a more fraternal world, with greater solidarity, through sports,” he added.

In Chapeco, thousands squeezed into the Santo Antonio Cathedral to mourn the people who lost their lives in the plane crash, while the Christ the Redeemer statue in Rio was lit up in green in tribute to Chapecoense.