By Benedict Mayaki, SJ
The World Council of Churches (WCC) has extended a message of closeness and solidarity to millions of people who are struggling to come to terms with the trauma and massive devastation wrought by wildfires in recent times.
In a series of pastoral letters signed by WCC acting general secretary Rev. Ioan Sauca, and addressed to religious leaders in countries affected by the fires, the ecumenical body said it is praying for the churches and all “those who have suffered loss of life and livelihoods.”
Reports of wildfires have filled news headlines in recent weeks as blazes continue to rage in parts of Greece, the US, Albania, Russia, Algeria and Turkey.
Teams of firefighters have been trying to contain the flareups of wildfires in Greece where forests and other property have been devastated by fires. The nation, in the grip of its worst heatwave in decades, has evacuated several areas as fires continue to ravage Evia, Greece’s second-largest island, just off the mainland east of Athens.
Massive fires have also been burning across Siberia in Russia’s north for weeks, while hot, dry weather has also fueled devastating fires in the US state of California.
Wildfires tearing through forest areas of northern Algeria have reportedly killed at least 65 people, as authorities continue to deploy resources to combat its spread. Dozens of people have also been critically injured with burns and smoke inhalation, while thousands have had to flee their homes due to the advancing flames.
Similarly, in Turkey, fires fueled by high temperatures and a heatwave have ravaged the country’s southern coast during the last two weeks. The flames wreaked damage on thousands of hectares of resort areas in Turkey’s Mediterranean and Aegean provinces, killing eight people and dealing a huge blow to the nation’s tourism industry.
These fire outbreaks come as the UN warned of the irreversible effects of human-induced climate change in a recently-released climate change report.
The WCC noted, in the pastoral letters, that “it is becoming more and more obvious that the fires this year all over the world are not of the same scale as in previous years,” and added that “they are part of the extreme phenomena increasingly observed as a consequence of the climate change.”
More so, Greek and European officials have blamed climate change for the blazes ravaging parts of southern Europe, from Southern Italy to the Balkans, Greece and Turkey.
Joint efforts in response to needs of affected people
“This tragic situation is mobilizing many countries that are joining their forces to rescue those suffering from such a natural catastrophe,” WCC said, acknowledging also the work of “professionals and volunteers who are participating in the operations” and risking their own lives.
The pastoral letters also pointed out that churches, on their part, are providing “comfort and counsel, hospitality and hope, strength and solidarity” in this time of crisis and grief when people need “more than shelter, physical food and nourishment.”
As efforts continue to curb the spread of the fires, the WCC prays that “God’s good grace and wisdom” will empower the religious leaders as they continue “to lead the people through these difficult times.”
The WCC has written solidarity letters to the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople, Bartholomew I; Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia, Kirill I; Archbishop of Athens and All Greece, Hieronymos II; and to Archbishop Anastasios of Tirana, Durres and All Albania.
The ecumenical body has also addressed letters to the Evangelical Church of Greece and the churches in the United States of America.