The Pope sent two messages to express his condolences. The first went to Archbishop Andrew Choi Chang-mou, president of the Korean bishops' conference, in which the Pontiff assured that he was close in thought to the suffering victims and their families, and prayed for God's mercy for the deceased.
The second, addressed to Kim Yong-nam, president of the North Korean Parliamentary Standing Committee, expressed the Pope's closeness and sympathy to all those affected by the catastrophe.
Both telegrams were sent on behalf of the Holy Father by Cardinal Angelo Sodano, the Vatican secretary of state.
The April 22 explosion in Ryongchon, near the Chinese border, killed 161 people and injured 1,300.
AsiaNews reported that Archbishop Nicholas Cheong Jin-suk of Seoul, who is also apostolic administrator of Pyongyang, the diocese where the accident took place, invited Catholics to collect funds to help the famine-struck North.
The archbishop noted that normally North Korea is tight-lipped about what goes on in the country, but that on this occasion Pyongyang has officially asked for help from the international community.
Archbishop Cheong Jin-suk added that the "easing of people's suffering is the real reason the Church exists."
The Seoul Diocesan Committee for the Reconciliation of the Korean People announced plans to begin a fund-raising program that will get under way next week, with the help of the Catholic press.
At the request of the Church in North Korea, the committee is immediately sending $80,000 worth of food, clothing and construction materials.
Monsignor Gabriel Chang, president of Korean Charities, has launched a national campaign to raise emergency funds for the victims, and is working in collaboration with Caritas International, which has already sent $200,000 in aid to North Korea.
Chang Jae-eon, chairman of the North Korean Catholic Association, thanked all South Korean Catholics for their generous and thoughtful solidarity and asked them to send anything they could to alleviate the victims' suffering, such as food, clothing, and construction material and equipment.