By Devin Watkins
Many residents in Calle de Toledo in Madrid were having lunch on Wednesday when a massive explosion rocked the area.
Authorities in the Spanish capital said the blast was likely caused by a gas leak on the upper stories of a building owned by the Catholic Church. Three people died when the top five stories of the building blew apart.
A Catholic priest was pulled from the rubble and taken to hospital. Father Rubén Pérez Ayala, 36, died from his wounds early Thursday morning.
The other three victims included a local electrician who was working on the building’s boiler, an 85-year-old Spanish woman, and a Bulgarian citizen. Eleven others were injured in the blast.
Pope Francis sent a telegram late Wednesday to the Cardinal Archbishop of Madrid, Carlos Osoro Sierra, to express his sorrow.
In the message signed by Cardinal Secretary of State Pietro Parolin, the Pope voiced his closeness and affection as the Archdiocese mourns.
Pope Francis said he is praying for the victims, the injured, and their families. He also “commends the victims in a special way to God’s mercy and prays for their eternal repose.”
And the Pope entrusted all those affected to the intercession of Our Lady of Almudena, the patroness of Madrid.
The building destroyed in the blast was owned by the local parish Church of Our Lady of the Dove. It was part of a complex used for residential training of priests, and also provided meals for the homeless.
The late Fr. Rubén, who died in hospital, served as a priest at the parish.
His brother, Fr. Pablo, also a diocesan priest, administered the Sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick, or the Last Rites, to Fr. Rubén at his hospital bedside.
Cardinal Osoro, who ordained Fr. Rubén in June 2020, also expressed his sorrow in a tweet, and thanked him for his “life given in service of Christ and the Church.”