VATICAN CITY—Pope Benedict XVI was "deeply saddened" by an earthquake and tsunami that devastated parts of Japan on Friday, possibly killing more than 1,000 people, a telegram to Japan's bishops said.

The pope was "deeply saddened by the brutal and tragic consequences of the severe earthquake and tsunami that struck northeastern coastal regions" of Japan, said the telegram sent by the Vatican's number two Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone on behalf of the pope.

Benedict assured all those who were affected by the disaster that he was "close (to them) in these difficult moments", according to the letter to the head of the Japanese bishops conference, Leo Jun Ikenaga.

He said he was praying for the dead and hoped that their families and friends would find "strength and consolation".

All those providing "help, comfort and support to the victims of the disaster" have his sympathy, he added.

Japan is predominantly Shintoist and Buddhist, with only 1.5 percent of the total population, or less than two million people, Christians. Less than half a million are Catholic.