By Christopher Wells
Pope Francis asked for everyone “to pray to the Lord to help the people [of Australia] in this difficult time" as major fires rage across the nation. Addressing Australian speaking pilgrims at the General Audience, the Holy Father said “I am close to the Australian people”.
Major bushfires have broken out around Australia, with more than 10.3 million hectares (25.5 million acres) of land burned in recent weeks. More than twenty people have lost their lives in the fires.
Authorities warn of revitalized blazes
Australian authorities warned people on Wednesday to prepare for another wave of evacuations as temperatures in the country's southeast began to rise after a days-long cool spell, bringing the danger of revitalised blazes.
Firefighters have used the break from extreme heat and high winds to strengthen containment lines around several major fires, as the military continued efforts to provide supplies to thousands of people who have been left homeless.
Complicating the recovery effort, authorities have forecast another temperature spike as soon as Friday, with little rain, meaning a return to hazardous conditions.
Response of the Church in Australia
Earlier this week, the president of the Australian Bishops Conference, Archbishop Mark Coleridge of Brisbane, issued a statement about the “unprecedented” crisis facing the country. Like Pope Francis, he too called for prayer, noting that “A genuine Catholic response to a crisis of this magnitude must draw strength from prayer which inspires concrete and compassionate action”.
Archbishop Coleridge announced that the Bishops Conference is preparing a national response to the fires, including assistance to those affected by the fires, collaboration with aid agencies, and a special collection to be taken up this weekend.
“With broad and deep roots across the nation”, the Archbishop said, “the Church stands ready to walk alongside people throughout their journey of recovery”.