Francis expressed “my sentiments of closeness in the face of the tragedy that they suffered.”
A stampede during one of the last rituals of the Hajj season — the annual Islamic pilgrimage to Mecca — killed more than 700 people and injured close to 900 others in Saudi Arabia on Thursday.
“In this moment I give them assurances of my prayers,” Francis said.
In his homily before a crowd of priests and nuns, Francis also called attention to the pain recent scandals in the Church have caused.
“You suffered greatly in the not distant past by having to bear the shame of some of your brothers who harmed and scandalized the Church in the most vulnerable of her members,” Francis said.
His message was a pep talk to the audience, as he told them he is with them in this time of “pain and difficulty” and thankful for their faithful service.
The Pope also acknowledged the challenges they face “adapting to an evolving pastoral landscape.”
Pope Francis effusively praised the nuns, just after the Vatican wrapped up an investigation of them.
“In a special way I would like to express my esteem and gratitude to the religious women of the United States. What would the Church be without you?” he said.
“Women of strength, fighters, with that spirit of courage which puts you on the front lines in the proclamation of the Gospel. To you, religious women, sisters and mothers of this people, I wish to say ‘thank you’, a big thank you… and to tell you that I love you very much.”
The Vatican accused the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, the country’s largest group of Catholic nuns, of sponsoring “certain radical feminist themes incompatible with the Catholic faith in some of the programs and presentations.”
Francis’ visit to St. Patrick’s Cathedral marked the fifth pontifical trip to the site. More than five million people walk through the church’s iconic bronze doors each year.
Francis said the cathedral can serve as a “symbol of the work of generations of American priests and religious, and lay faithful who helped build up the Church in the United States.”
The cathedral, which opened in 1879, is the seat of the Archbishop. It has been through an extensive renovation estimated at $175 million.