John Paul II Asks Help for Victims of Guatemala Mudslides

Government Refuses Special Aid

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CASTEL GANDOLFO, Italy, SEPT. 16, 2002 ( John Paul II expressed his sorrow to the people of Guatemala and appealed for aid for the victims of the mudslides that killed 31 in a remote western village.

As the Vatican Press Office published the papal message today, rescue teams continued their search for six people who disappeared in the municipality of San Lucas Toliman.

Cardinal Angelo Sodano, Vatican secretary of state, sent a telegram to Archbishop Ramiro Moliner Inglés, the apostolic nuncio in the Central American country, expressing the Pope’s sorrow over the tragedy.

The mudslides Thursday devastated over 45 homes in the village of El Porvenir, 150 kilometers (90 miles) west of Guatemala City. On Saturday, the community buried 27 of the dead.

«The Holy Father wishes to express his special closeness to those affected, offering prayers for the eternal repose of the deceased and imploring the Almighty to give consolation and Christian hope to all those suffering from this severe adversity,» the papal message states.

«Likewise, he exhorts both national and international institutions as well as all people of good will, to intensify their solidarity and fraternal charity, by contributing the necessary help to surmount the tragic situation in which many Guatemalan families have been plunged,» it adds.

The Pope concludes his message by expressing «his heartfelt sympathy to the relatives of the deceased,» and encouraging «with paternal solicitude all those affected by this tragedy.» Guatemala welcomed the Holy Father last July for a canonization.

When Vice President Juan Reyes visited El Porvenir on Saturday, he refused special government aid to those affected by the catastrophe, because to do so would only be to «make a show,» he said.

«Our commitment is to serve day by day,» Reyes told the villagers and their neighbors. «We have already learned not to promise you anything, because the next day the media reports that we have not fulfilled our obligation.»

«To avoid these tragedies, the mayors must prohibit construction in places at risk,» the vice president added.

Several Guatemalan radio stations have organized collections of food, clothes, blankets and other basic necessities for the survivors.

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