On receiving the news from Baghdad, the Pope sent a telegram, through the Vatican secretary of state, to Archbishop Fernando Filoni, apostolic nuncio in Iraq, in which he exhorted "all believers in the one God to unite to deplore all sorts of violence and to cooperate in the return to concord of the afflicted Iraqi land."

In the message, the Pope expresses "to the civil and religious authorities, as well as to the victims' relatives and to all the population, his deepest sympathy."

Benedict XVI entrusted to "divine mercy all those who perished in such a tragic way and assured them of his prayers so that at last an atmosphere of reconciliation and mutual trust will be established in that country."

Funerals began early today in Baghdad for the pilgrims who died during the stampede, which apparently started amid rumors of the presence of a suicide bomber.

The Ministry of Interior put the number of dead at 953. Another 815 were reported injured, some critically.