(RNS) Pope Francis has telephoned leaders of the terror-stricken French city of Nice, asking him what he could do to help in the wake of last week’s gruesome truck attack and promising to meet with the families of the victims as soon as possible.
The pontiff made his call out of the blue on Sunday evening (July 17), reaching the former mayor of Nice and leader of the region, Christian Estrosi, through the head of a national association of Italians who live in France.
“Pope Francis called me yesterday evening about 7 p.m., apologizing because he doesn’t speak French very well,” Paolo Celi, head of the France-Italy Friendship society, who acted as intermediary for the call, told the news agency ADNKronos.
“The first thing he said to me was, ‘What can I do for you?'” Celi said, recalling the conversation before he connected Francis to Estrosi.
Celi said Francis promised to meet “as soon as possible” with the families of the victims.
Eighty-four people were crushed to death last Thursday night and scores of others were wounded, many critically, when a Tunisian-born Frenchman drove a 20-ton truck through crowds gathered to celebrate Bastille Day fireworks on the waterfront of the Mediterranean port city.
The attacker, Mohamed Lahouaiej-Bouhlel, 31, was killed in a shootout with police.
Francis immediately condemned the “blind violence” of the attack and on Sunday, before his call to Celi and Estrosi, the pope said “the pain of the massacre is alive in our hearts” as he prayed with a crowd in St. Peter’s Square.
“I am close to each family and the entire French nation which is in mourning,” Francis said in remarks at the noontime Angelus prayer.
“May God, the good Father, welcome all the victims into his peace, support the injured and comfort their families,” he added. “May he dissolve every project of terror and death, so that man no longer attempts to spill his brother’s blood.”