Pope Francis assured Australians he was close to them in the midst of the worst bushfire crisis in the nation in modern history and asked the world to pray for the country.
“I am close to the people of Australia,” he remarked to those attending his first General Audience of the New Year.
The audience took place in the Vatican’s Paul VI Hall on the morning of 8 January, the Rome-based Zenit news agency reported.
“Among you is a group from Australia,” Francis 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.
At least 21 people have died and over 2500 homes have been lost, whilst untold numbers of stock and native animals have perished.
The Catholic Church this week announced a national collection to be taken up at Masses on the Australia Day weekend while the Society of St Vincent de Paul will be among a number of agencies assisting those who have lost property and possessions.
The National Catholic Education Commission this week also invited that any families with children enrolled in Catholic schools and who have been affected by the fires or lost property to contact their Catholic school principals to talk about fee relief.