Pope's pain for migrants

Pope Francis has described the "heartfelt pain" he feels for the hundreds of victims who are believed to have drowned while fleeing across the Mediterranean from North Africa. He called upon the international community to take swift and decisive action to avoid more tragedies of migrants seeking a better life.

The Pope's plea was delivered after the Regina Coeli prayer in St Peter’s Square on Sunday morning. Addressing tens of thousands of people, he said: “They are men and women like us, our brothers seeking a better life, starving, persecuted, wounded, exploited, victims of war. They were looking for a better life."

In the latest disaster, according to the Italian coastguard, hundreds are feared to have drowned after a boat carrying up to 700 migrants capsized in the Mediterranean Sea. It is thought that the vessel was just 20m (70ft) long; it capsized at midnight local time in Libyan waters south of the Italian island of Lampedusa, making this one of the worst disasters of the current Mediterranean migrant crisis.

"I make a heartfelt appeal to the international community to react decisively and quickly to see to it that such tragedies are not repeated," Pope Francis said on Sunday. He expressed his "most heartfelt pain" and promised to remember the victims and their families in prayer. He then asked the crowd to pray "for these brothers and sisters".

International responsePope Francis meets the Italian President

Pope Francis' comments come days after he joined Italian authorities in pressing the European Union to do more to help the country cope with rapidly mounting numbers of desperate people rescued in the Mediterranean during journeys on smugglers' boats to flee war, persecution or poverty. At his first official meeting last week (pictured right) with Italy's new president, Sergio Mattarella, he expressed gratitude for the Italian response to the crisis but said it was "evident that the proportions of the phenomenon demand much greater involvement."

Last year, the EU ended its maritime rescue operation, Mare Nostrum, with some EU members saying they could not afford it and expressing concerns that it was encouraging more migrants. The EU now runs a more limited border control operation called Triton, while Italy provides a search and rescue operation.

Speaking with Italy's President Mattarella last week, Pope Francis stated: "We must not tire in our attempts to solicit a more extensive response at the European and international level."