Cardinal Antonio Rouco Varela, archbishop of the Spanish capital, who was in Rome when the attacks occurred, asked Madrid's auxiliary bishops to mobilize all the priests to go to the places where the attacks took place and to be available in hospitals and centers caring for the wounded.
When a morgue was set up in the IFEMA exhibitions center, the cardinal personally asked priests to help the victims' families and loved ones.
Members of the Dominican and Franciscan communities, residing near two of the train stations that were bombed, arrived immediately on the scene to offer spiritual and human solace.
An improvised chapel was set up in IFEMA to give support to "relatives and friends of the deceased, and to professionals and volunteers helping them," said Father Carlos Padilla, who spent the night there.
"What people most wanted was company," the priest said, who belongs to the Schoenstatt Institute. "The mere presence of priests was of help; they saw persons praying for them, accompanying them in silence."
"The sorrow and anguish is so great in such a moment that no word is consoling, but it is consoling to know that there are people there who are listening and mourning with one," the priest said.
"Some persons didn't want to talk to any one, some even raised their voices against the Church and against God. It was a bit dramatic," Father Padilla said.
In that situation, the priest admitted feeling somewhat helpless. "In those moments, I saw the difference between those who had a firmer faith, and those who did not," he said.
"The sorrow is there, but it changes if you feel the presence of Christ," he added. "This is why the chapel was so important, even among many volunteers, who commented that the only thing one could do was to pray, for the dead, of course, but also for relatives who could not understand."
One of the hospitals that received many of the victims was Gregorio Maranon: 350 were hospitalized there on Thursday. So far, the attack has cost 199 lives and wounded more than 1,400.
The hospital chaplain, Father Victor Fernandez, described how hard it was to be with people "who had no information about a loved one at the time, or who were waiting to hear if a relative's life would be saved or not."
"In this situation," he said, "one tried to offer some serenity and hope in the midst of outrage. One tried to provide company and to listen."
Among the victims is the chaplain of the Hospital of the Child Jesus, who was "caught by one of the bombs and might lose an arm," Father Fernandez added. "Every 20 minutes a list was read of persons whose identity was known, and one or two persons would accompany the family to find their relatives; they were never left alone."
"Many families went down to the chapel to give thanks after discovering that their relatives' lives were spared," the priest said.
The archdiocesan Health Care Ministry has set up a Web page with advice for pastoral care of those affected by the attacks, and as a help to people assisting them in parishes, hospitals and other centers.