Buenos Aires (AFP) - Two infant grandnephews of Pope Francis and their mother were killed early Tuesday when their car slammed into the back of a truck in Argentina, authorities said.
The pope's nephew Emanuel Horacio Bergoglio, who was behind the wheel at the time of the crash, was in serious condition, they said.
His children -- aged eight months and two years old -- were killed in the crash along with their mother, Cordoba police commissioner Carina Ferreyra told AFP.
Vatican spokesman Federico Lombardi said the pope had been informed about the accident and was "deeply pained."
"He asks all those who share in his pain to join him in prayer," Lombardi added.
Francis has not been back to his native Argentina since being elected pope in March 2013.
The family was traveling on a highway in the central province of Cordoba when their vehicle slammed into the back of a truck and burst into flames, police said.
The circumstances surrounding the crash were under investigation.
Bergoglio, who was hospitalized with multiple injuries, is the 38-year-old son of Alberto, the pope's late brother.
Both he and his two-year-old son were pulled from the wreckage alive and taken to hospital some 30 kilometers (20 miles) away where the child died shortly after being admitted.
"The boy had severe trauma to the thorax and a collapsed cranium. We worked for an hour but he didn't survive his injuries," said the hospital's adjunct director Ignacio Bruno.
Another hospital official, Sergio Arroyo, said Bergoglio was admitted around 1 am with multiple trauma, an exposed fracture of the right humerus and a liver injury, which was operated on.
"He is breathing with the help of a respirator," Arroyo told reporters.
The truck driver, a 60-year-old man, was not hurt.
The accident happened some 550 kilometers northwest of the capital Buenos Aires near the city of James Craik.
Tuesday marked the end of a long weekend in Argentina, and traffic was heavy as travelers made their way home from their holidays.
The weather in the area was fine at the time of the crash.
Fire Chief Gustavo Ponce de Leon told the TN television channel that Bergoglio was conscious when he was rescued and that he was at the wheel while his wife and children were in the back seat.