VATICAN CITY, MARCH 12, 2004 ( When the archbishop of Madrid was visiting victims of Thursday's terrorist attacks today, his mobile phone rang. John Paul II was on the line, wanting news about the victims and families suffering in the wake of the blasts that rocked the Spanish capital.

Cardinal Antonio Rouco Varela, who was visiting the Princess Hospital, was able to give the Pope a general picture of the mobilization of Spanish society and of the Church, to offer spiritual and human assistance to those affected.

The toll from the attacks stood at 199 dead and more than 1,400 wounded.

"I am very distressed," the Holy Father said, according to a statement from the Archdiocese of Madrid.

The Pope added that he felt the affliction and sorrow of the wounded and their families, and that he prayed constantly for them and for the dead, as well as for peace and the end of terrorism in Spain.

The archdiocese's statement noted that the Holy Father asked Cardinal Rouco to transmit his sympathy to King Juan Carlos I, and his blessing for the whole Spanish people.

John Paul II tried to speak by phone with the cardinal on Thursday night, but was unsuccessful as the cardinal was traveling.

The attacks took place when the archbishop of Madrid was in Rome attending the plenary assembly of the Pontifical Council for Culture.

Unable to contact the cardinal, the Holy Father called Vatican spokesman Joaquín Navarro-Valls at home, to get the latest information on the situation. In particular, he wished to know how the families of the dead were coping, said the Vatican spokesman, himself of Spanish nationality.

Navarro-Valls said that John Paul II told him: "Let all Spaniards know that the Pope is very close to them, that he prays, and that he feels very close to all the families."

The director of the Vatican press office revealed details of his telephone conversation with the Pope when attending a demonstration today, organized by the Spanish community in front of Spanish Embassy in Rome, to condemn terrorism and to support the victims' relatives.