Religious leaders are urging the international community to pray for the victims of a catastrophic 7.8-magnitude earthquake in Nepal, which left over 4,000 people dead and another 7,000 injured after striking the south Asian nation on Saturday.
According to Nepal's National Emergency Operation Centre, dozens more are reported to have been killed in neighbouring Tibet and India. It is feared that the number will only continue to rise, particularly among the rural areas, making it the worst earthquake to hit Nepal in eight decades.
Speaking to those gathered in St Peter's Square on Sunday, Pope Francis voiced his sorrow over the tragedy.
"I wish to express my closeness to the populations struck by a powerful earthquake in Nepal and in neighbouring countries," he said, the Catholic Herald reports.
"I pray for the victims, for the wounded, and for all those who suffer because of this calamity. May they be sustained by fraternal solidarity."
When the news of the earthquake broke on Saturday, a statement was reportedly sent to the Bishop of the Apostolic Vicariate of Nepal, Paul Simick, on behalf of the Pope. In his message, the pontiff said he was deeply saddened to hear of the catastrophe, and that he "commends the souls of the victims to the long mercy of the Almighty".
Rev. Franklin Graham, President of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association and Samaritan's Purse, also offered his prayers for those affected.
'A devastating earthquake hit Nepal this morning near the country's capital city, Kathmandu," he wrote on Facebook on Saturday. "The people of Nepal urgently need our prayers."
Graham noted that thus far, Samaritan's Purse has deployed 16 teams of disaster response experts and emergency supplies for 15,000 households in response to the earthquake, which reportedly destroyed 70 per cent of the population's homes.
Megachurch Pastor T.D. Jakes also took to social media to express his sorrow, writing, "My heart is broken over the loss of 1400 people in Nepal...Who will pray with me?"
In addition to growing monetary aid from the international community, numerous mission agencies are working on the ground to help victims, including the Red Cross, Christian Aid, Oxfam, World Vision, Doctors Without Borders, Tearfund and the Church Mission Society. However, the New York Times reports that humanitarian groups are already facing challenges as continued aftershocks, a crippled transportation network and the loss of power in parts of the country have made it difficult to search for survivors and distribute supplies.
"Some of these communities are unlikely to be accessed for a week, with landslides also a risk. A slide could affect the course of rivers, creating floods and posing huge additional risk to Bihar, India's poorest state," Tearfund's head of humanitarian Support, Oenone Chadburn, said, reports Christian Today.
"We are preparing a response team for travel, and establishing contact with staff and partners in the country. Our work will see us go out of our way to find difficult and remote locations - as part of our call to follow Jesus to the places of very greatest need. However, this brings a whole set of challenges."