Thursday, January 26, 2017

Devastating wildfires in Chile prompt message from Pope Francis

Pope Francis celebrates Mass at Casa Santa Marta on June 9, 2016. Credit: © L'Osservatore Romano.Pope Francis sent a letter to Chile voicing his nearness to everyone suffering from the devastating effects of more than 100 wildfires, which have ravaged areas of the country for over a week now.
The letter, sent on behalf of the Holy Father by Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin, to the president of the Chile bishops' conference, conveys Francis' condolences for the deceased and their families in “this beloved country.”

Pope Francis “offers condolences for the eternal rest of the deceased,” the Jan. 23 letter states, asking Bishop Santiago Silva Retamales “to transmit to the families of the victims his heartfelt condolence and express his spiritual closeness to the wounded and to those who suffer the consequences of this catastrophe.” 

The government of Chile has declared a state of emergency as they fight blazes which have destroyed homes, farmland, and livestock in the central and southern regions of Chile. 

Six people have died in the fires: two policemen and four firefighters, the Washington Post reports.

No civilians have been killed, but many have had to evacuate as their farms and vineyards, in many cases their only means of livelihood, are destroyed. High temperatures and a prolonged drought has contributed to the fires, which have so far ruined around 300,000 acres of forest land.

Pope Francis “raises prayers for the Lord to grant strength and comfort to those affected by the outbreaks and inspire in all sentiments of solidarity,” the letter continued, “so that in these difficult times they collaborate effectively, with generosity and charity, to alleviate pain and to overcome adversity, while imparting to them the comforting apostolic blessing.”

President Michelle Bachelet said “Chile is living the greatest forest disaster in our history,” adding later that the country has “practically exhausted its capacity to fight the blazes,” the BBC reported.

The U.S. is sending experts and funds to help replace equipment at Chile’s national forestry agency. Bachelet has also asked Brazil, Canada, Mexico, Peru, Spain and France for assistance in providing planes and helicopters to tackle the fires. 

The town of Pumanque in the south-central region of O'Higgins is one of the worst hit, residents having lost most of their possessions and livelihoods.

Fr. Cristián Salazar, a priest of Pumanque, has organized the delivery of boxes of merchandise in the parish for the most urgent situations, according to a press release of the Chile bishops’ conference.

Archbishop Alejandro Goic Karmelic of the Diocese of Rancagua has asked for gestures of solidarity with those in the affected regions through the donation of things like construction materials, housewares, food, and aid for firefighters, such as water, cereal bars and sunscreen.

All parishes in the diocese will also hold a second collection at Mass to aid those affected.

“The Bishop of Rancagua asks us to pray for families who have suffered material losses and for those who are fighting the fire, to implore the mercy of God in the difficult situation they are living. He appeals to the generosity of each to those who need it so much,” the press release states.

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