Castel Gandolfo, Italy: Pope Benedict XVI expressed serious concern Sunday about the situation in Myanmar and said he strongly hoped that a peaceful solution would be found.

“I am following with great trepidation the very serious events” in the Asian nation, whose military regime has violently cracked down on peaceful pro-democracy protests. It was his first public comments on the developments this month in Myanmar.

“I want to express my spiritual closeness to the dear population in this moment of the very painful trial it is going through,” the pontiff said during an appearance to pilgrims at his summer residence in Castel Gandolfo in the hills southeast of Rome.

While assuring the people of his “intense prayer” and inviting “the entire Church” to also pray, Benedict said he “strongly hoped that a peaceful solution can be found, for the good of the country.”

Earlier, a U.N. envoy met with in Yangon, Myanmar’s main city, with the detained opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi after meeting with the junta’s leaders.