Australia’s Catholic bishops have joined with all the Catholic bishops of Oceania in sending a message of condolence to Church and civic leaders in Turkey and Syria.
“Our hearts break at the death and destruction we are seeing on our television screens and in our newspapers,” they wrote on 9 February from their quadrennial assembly of the Federation of Catholic Bishops Conferences of Oceania in Suva, Fiji.
“We know that God is close to those that suffer. We pray that your people sense the love and care of their brothers and sisters around the world, including from Oceania.
“One of the key themes of our Federation of Catholic Bishops Conferences of Oceania gathering this week is the connectedness of human suffering and the suffering of our world. We have seen in your countries how natural disasters can wreak such pain and anguish, with thousands of lives lost.
“The Catholic Church has established appeals to raise funds to support the ongoing efforts for rescue and recovery, and we will encourage the faithful in our region to respond generously.
“The Church is also providing human resources on the ground to respond to immediate needs through our aid agencies.
“Be assured of our ongoing prayers and our attention as your people recover from this tragedy.”
The message was signed by the president of the Federation of Catholic Bishops Conferences of Oceania, Suva Archbishop Peter Loy Chong, with the support of the presidents of the four episcopal conferences: Australia, New Zealand, Solomon Islands/Papua New Guinea and the Pacific.
Australian leaders of the Armenian and Melkite Catholic Churches have also called for more aid for war-torn Syria, telling The Catholic Weekly that sanctions needed to be halted.
In a separate statement Bishop Antoine-Charbel Tarabay, Bishop of the Maronite Eparchy of Australia, New Zealand and Oceania expanded on the trauma being experienced in the stricken region and called for generous government aid.
“Among those affected are people who were already displaced from their homes by the crisis in the region, living in weak shelters and partially destroyed buildings,” he said.
“In Turkey also, those caught up in the disaster include refugees from Syria and the communities that have hosted them for several years.
“The region, especially Lebanon which continues to suffer under increasing economic, social and political pressures, is potentially facing an influx of additional refugees and a demand on very limited resources as a result. This will have a lot of ramifications on the lives of so many.
“Undoubtedly, more and more humanitarian agencies will be launching much needed emergency relief campaigns in an area not typically equipped to handle natural disasters of this magnitude.
“However, we are calling on governments to please be generous in their aid and support for all those affected.”