By Justin McLellan, Catholic News Service
VATICAN CITY (CNS) – Pope Francis expressed his “spiritual closeness” and “solidarity” with those affected by a pair of powerful earthquakes that struck Turkey and Syria on February 6.
A 7.8 magnitude earthquake as measured by the US Geological Survey hit southern Turkey before dawn on February 6, wreaking havoc in large areas of neighbouring Syria. It was followed by what the geological survey said was a separate 7.5 magnitude earthquake, less than 12 hours later some 60 miles away.
By mid-afternoon local time, the Associated Press was reporting that more than 2300 people were killed while hundreds remained trapped under the rubble of toppled buildings. That number has since been updated to 4300 dead with the number expected to rise.
The Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need said a Catholic priest was among the dead in Syria. Father Imad Daher died in the collapse of the residence of retired Melkite Archbishop Jean-Clement Jeanbart of Aleppo, who was injured and hospitalised, the charity said.
Pope Francis was “deeply saddened” to learn of the “huge loss of life” caused by the disaster and offered his “heartfelt condolences” to those mourning losses, wrote Cardinal Pietro Parolin, Vatican secretary of state, in telegrams to the Vatican’s ambassadors in Turkey and Syria.
The Pope also prayed that emergency personnel would “be sustained in their care of the injured and in the ongoing relief efforts by the divine gifts of fortitude and perseverance”.
According to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the earthquake is the largest disaster to hit the country since 1939, when a 7.8 magnitude earthquake killed more than 32,000 people and injured over 100,000. It is unclear how high the number of dead and wounded from the February 6 earthquakes will reach, he added.
The Turkish president said that more than 45 countries have offered to support Turkey in relief efforts in addition to NATO and the European Union.
The Middle East Council of Churches, representing Orthodox, Evangelical and Catholic churches, issued a statement calling on the international community to provide emergency aid to the region and to lift sanctions on Syria “so sanctions may not turn into a crime against humanity.”
Just a few hours after the quake, the Knights of Malta announced that Malteser International, their relief agency, was sending an emergency response team.
“Our local partners have an urgent need of support, especially in areas of northern Syria where hundreds of thousands of people live in simple refuges and now, with the earthquakes, are even more defenceless,” said Oliver Hochedez, head of the Malteser International emergency response department. “In the hospitals run by our partner organisations the number of injured arriving increases hour by hour. We must provide help rapidly.”
Chaldean Catholic Bishop Antoine Audo of Aleppo told Vatican News on February 6 that he had never seen such destruction in war-torn Syria. “There was a strong fear and now the people are in the street, in the cold and under the rain,” he said. “There is damage everywhere, even in the cathedral. The libraries are destroyed, the houses crumbled. It’s an apocalyptic situation.”
Caritas Internationalis, the umbrella organisation of national Catholic charities, immediately began a fundraising campaign for relief efforts in Turkey and Syria. The charity has been active in Turkey since 1991 and in Syria since 2011, primarily providing aid for refugees.
Photo: Rescuers carry an injured girl out of a collapsed building following an earthquake in Diyarbakir, Turkey, on February 6, 2023 (OSV News photo/Sertac Kayar, Reuters)
Dr.Cajetan Coelho says
Life is a precious gift. Respectful farewell to those gone ahead. Strength and courage to all their loved ones.