VATICAN CITY, JULY 19, 2005 ( Benedict XVI expressed condolences over last week's floods in Romania which left at least 21 dead.

Cardinal Angelo Sodano, Vatican secretary of state, expressed the Pope's sentiments in a letter written on his behalf, to Archbishop Jean-Claude Périsset, apostolic nuncio in Romania.

"The Supreme Pontiff follows with apprehension the drama of the Romanian people, affected by the torrential rains which have caused mourning, devastation and serious damages in that country," reads the message, published today by the Vatican press office.

The Pope requested the nuncio to express his "his grief and spiritual closeness to the civil and religious authorities, in the sad circumstance that this nation, which he so loves, is going through."

"His Holiness raises fervent prayers for all those who have lost their lives and assures his prayer to the Lord for those who are suffering because of the death of dear ones or who have remained homeless and have been obliged to leave their belongings, finding themselves now in serious difficulties," the letter states.

Finally, the Holy Father "invokes God, consolation and strength for these brothers and sisters, and sends them a special apostolic blessing, as a pledge of his affection."

Romanian Prime Minister Calin Popescu Tariceanu reported the death toll from the floods.

Material damage included 500 houses destroyed and 10,000 severely damaged. Hundreds of bridges and roads were also damaged.