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‘I Am Close to the People of Australia,’ Says Pope Francis

Invites Faithful at 1st General Audience of New Year to Join Him in Praying for Country Being Devastated by Fires

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“I am close to the people of Australia…”

Pope Francis gave this assurance at his first General Audience of the New Year, which was held inside the Vatican’s Paul VI Hall, this morning.

“Among you,” he observed, “is a group from Australia,” Francis said in his Italian greetings.

The Pontiff then said: “I would like to ask everyone to pray to the Lord that He will help this people at this difficult time.”

Since last September, fires have burned more than 12 million acres across the drought-stricken country. Over a billion animals have perished. In order to protect the water sources, the authorities have planned to shoot some 10,000 dromedaries.

The Catholic Church in the country has lamented that they see “no end in sight.”

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Deborah Castellano Lubov

Deborah Castellano Lubov is Senior Vatican & Rome Correspondent for ZENIT; author of 'The Other Francis' ('L'Altro Francesco') featuring interviews with those closest to the Pope and preface by Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Parolin (currently published in 5 languages); Deborah is also NBC & MSNBC Vatican Analyst. She often covers the Pope's travels abroad, at times from the papal flight (including for historic trips such as to Abu Dhabi and Japan & Thailand), and has done television and radio commentary, including for Vatican Radio, Sky, and BBC. She is a contributor to National Catholic Register, UK Catholic Herald, Our Sunday Visitor, Inside the Vatican, and other Catholic news outlets. She has also collaborated with the Vatican in various projects, including an internship at the Pontifical Council for Social Communications, and is a collaborator with NBC Universal, NBC News, Euronews, and EWTN. For 'The Other Francis': or

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