SYDNEY, Australia, FEB. 11, 2009 (Zenit.org).- Cardinal George Pell of Sydney expressed his solidarity with the victims of the deadly bushfires in Victoria, which have razed entire towns and left thousands homeless.
The death toll for the fires that are still burning in the southern state is expected to rise above 200, with many people still missing. Thousands have lost their homes and are living in temporary shelter.
“On behalf of the Catholic community of Sydney I extend my deepest condolences to all who have lost family members, friends and loved ones in these devastating fires,” the cardinal said in a statement Monday. “You are very much in our prayers and thoughts at this time and we stand ready to help in whatever way we can.”
“Our prayers for the victims and for all those effected by the fires will continue and will be a special focus in parishes and schools at Masses this week and next Sunday,” he said.
The current bush fires that have been blazing since the weekend are the worst fires to have hit the nation since that of Black Friday in 1939 or Ash Wednesday in 1983. The fires charred 1,033 homes and left some 5,000 homeless.
Cardinal Pell announced that the Archdiocese of Sydney would donate $50,000 to a special appeal initiated by Archbishop Denis Hart of Melbourne to support the victims of the bushfires and to help in the reconstruction effort.
The cardinal urged “parishes to contribute to this appeal” and noted the aid national Church agencies are offering for the victims.
“Our prayers and thoughts go also to the fire fighters, police, emergency service workers and the many volunteers who are at the frontline in the relief effort,” he said. “All Australians are immensely grateful for the tremendous work they continue to do in impossible circumstances.”
Cardinal Pell continued: “I am particularly grateful for the heroic efforts of our priests, pastoral workers and parish communities who are counseling and supporting the grieving. The loss of church buildings in the fires redoubles our commitment to help in the rebuilding of these rural communities.
“The Catholics of Sydney are united with the whole community at this terrible time in the many efforts to comfort those who have lost loved ones and to help devastated communities rebuild.”