Pope Expresses Deep Sadness Over Australian Fires

Catholic Community Rallies to Aid Victims

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VATICAN CITY, FEB. 10, 2009 (Zenit.org).- Benedict XVI assures Australia of his closeness in prayer for the victims of the bushfires in Victoria, and for the assistance organizations who have gone to their rescue.

The Pope’s secretary of state, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, affirmed this today in a message sent to the governor-general of Australia, Quentin Bryce. The death toll has reached 181, with many people still missing. Hundreds of families have lost their homes and are living in temporary shelter.

The message read: «Deeply saddened to learn of the tragic consequences of recent fires in the state of Victoria, His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI assured all affected of his closeness in prayer.

«The Holy Father commends the deceased to the loving mercy of Almighty God, and upon their grieving families, and all those suffering from loss of property and destruction of land, he invokes divine strength and consolation.

«His Holiness likewise prays for all involved in providing assistance to the victims of this disaster, encouraging them in their efforts to bring relief and support.»

Doing all it can

The president of the Australian bishops’ conference, Archbishop Philip Wilson, said Monday that «the Catholic Church would do all it could, both spiritually and practically, to stand in solidarity with those affected.»

The Archdiocese of Melbourne’s Web site recorded the words of the conference president: «I know that Catholic parishes across Australia have been praying for the people who died in the bushfires, as well as for those experiencing the grief of losing loved ones, family homes and cherished pets and belongings.

«In addition, Catholic relief agencies, such as St. Vincent de Paul and Centacare are already at work.»

«My prayers and thoughts are with all who are suffering so grievously,» Archbishop Wilson continued, and «I also extend heartfelt gratitude to all those volunteers and professionals who have fought these fires and floods so selflessly and tirelessly during these emergencies.»

Bit of hope

The Catholic Social Services executive director for the Melbourne archdiocese, Denis Fitzgerald, reported that the Catholic community is responding to the bushfires, which started over the weekend and are still burning.

He observed that «a beacon of hope that has shone out from this tragedy is the way that the Australian community has rallied to offer support: Schools, parishes, families have been among those keen to assist, and relief and assistance agencies have been flooded with offers of help.

«The Australian Catholic community has been a significant part of this response.»

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