Pope Benedict was invited to visit the Philippines

VATICAN CITY - Pope Benedict XVI pledged Sunday to say a "special prayer to God" after a typhoon-stricken ferry sank with more than 700 people on board in the Philippines, a mainly Roman Catholic nation.

"It is with deep emotion that I learn this morning of the sinking in the Philippines of a ferry hit by Typhoon Fengshen (Philippine codename: Frank)," the pope said after reciting the Angelus prayer following his Sunday mass at the Vatican.

Expressing "spiritual closeness" with islanders living in the typhoon's path, he said he would be making "a special prayer to God for the victims of a new tragedy at sea, in which it appears many children were involved".

The M/V Princess of the Stars listed and sank in just 15 terrifying minutes Saturday in the typhoon-battered seas of the central Philippines, leaving only four survivors so far.

Pope Benedict was invited to visit the Philippines, where eight out of 10 people are Roman Catholics, by President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo last year. The last papal visit to the southeast Asian nation was by the late John Paul II in 1995.

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