By Laura Ieraci, Catholic News Service     3/26/2015

VATICAN CITY (CNS) — Pope Francis prayed for the repose of the souls of the 150 passengers and crew of a Germanwings plane that crashed into the French Alps March 24.

The Airbus A320 began to lose altitude shortly after taking off from Barcelona, Spain, for Dusseldorf, Germany. It crashed into a mountain about 50 minutes later, officials said. All of the passengers on Flight 9525 — including two babies and 16 German high school students — were presumed dead.

“Pope Francis mourns with the families and expresses his closeness in their pain,” said Cardinal Pietro Parolin, Vatican secretary of state, in a March 24 message to Bishop Jean-Philippe Nault of Digne, the diocese in which the crash occurred.

The cardinal said the pope also “expresses his deep sympathies to all those who are touched by this tragedy, as well as to the rescuers who are working in difficult conditions.” The pope prays that God grant them “strength and consolation,” he said.

By March 25, rescue officials had found the plane’s black box but were unable to retrieve any of the bodies due to difficult weather conditions. French authorities had set up a chapel near the crash site and a local school cleared its sports hall to take in the bodies of the victims.