Oceania bishops send message after devastating earthquake in Turkey and Syria

An earthquake survivor stands next to the site of a collapsed building in Kahramanmaras, Turkey, Feb. 8, 2023. The powerful 7.8 magnitude earthquake rocked areas of Turkey and Syria early Feb. 6, toppling hundreds of buildings and killing thousands. (OSV News photo/Dilara Senkaya, Reuters)

The Catholic bishops of Oceania have sent a message of prayerful condolence and solidarity to Church and civic leaders in Turkey and Syria as the countries suffer the effects of devastating earthquakes.

Meeting in Fiji for their quadrennial assembly of the Federation of Catholic Bishops Conferences of Oceania, the bishops expressed deep sadness at the loss of life and the damage from which it will take years to recover.

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.

Here is the text of the message:

From the other end of the world, our hearts break at the death and destruction we are seeing on our television screens and in our newspapers.

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.

In a February 8 facebook post, Caritas Aotearoa New Zealand asked that the people of Turkey and Syria be kept prayers as they face widespread devastation and loss of life.

“We’re in contact with our partners on the ground as they assess the scale of the damage and critical needs at this time,” the Caritas post stated.

If you would like to donate, you can do so online through the Emergency Donation tab via this link: www.caritas.org.nz/donate-online (specify your donation is for Turkey Earthquake) or via our bank account 03-0518-0211216-00 (please include first & last name and put Turkey as the code.)

OSV News reported that Catholic humanitarian agencies have been launching emergency relief campaigns following February 6’s devastating earthquakes in Syria and Turkey, which have so far killed more than 21,000 people.

The number of dead and injured was expected to climb further as rescue teams continued to search through the rubble of toppled buildings.

The Catholic Near East Welfare Association (CNEWA), an agency of the Holy See, is looking to aid over 2000 families in Syria’s Aleppo and Hama regions – already long ravaged by conflict – by providing bedding, food, medicines, infant formula, diapers and clothing.

Catholic Relief Services (CRS), the US Catholic Church’s overseas relief and development agency, also is accepting donations through its website, crs.org. CRS is partnering with Caritas Turkey, Caritas Syria and Caritas Anatolia – members of Caritas Internationalis, a global confederation of Catholic relief organizations – to shelter displaced victims while ensuring access to food, clean water and hygiene supplies.

CNEWA president Msgr.- Peter Vaccari said in a February 7 news release that his agency’s effort was “a preliminary response” to the disaster, which saw two powerful quakes strike southern Turkey and northern Syria mere hours apart.

The first quake, a 7.8 magnitude tremor, occurred just after 4 a.m. during a winter storm, followed by a 6.7 magnitude aftershock. The second quake, registering 7.5, hit nine hours later some 60 miles away. Numerous aftershocks have followed the quakes, according to the US Geological Survey.

Thousands of buildings have collapsed, with rescue efforts hampered by inclement weather and damaged roads. Rescuers, joined by international teams, are racing against time to extricate survivors from the rubble.

“Survivors are still processing the shock of the earthquake, searching through the rubble and assisting in rescue efforts,” said CNEWA Beirut regional director Michel Constantin, whose team manages emergency programs throughout the region. “There is a general state of panic, exacerbated by the harsh weather, complicating rescue efforts and the capacity to collect and assess data and plan accordingly.”

Even prior to the quake, 4.1 million in Syria depended on humanitarian aid due to a long-running civil war that since 2011 has ravaged the nation.

“The situation is tragic . . . We have opened our convent doors to hundreds of families who have lost their houses, and their number is increasing by the hour,” said Blue Marist Brother Georges Sabe, whose order – which CNEWA’s campaign will aid – is sheltering up to 1000 families in Aleppo, coordinating with the Franciscan Friars and the Salesian Fathers.

Brother Sabe said, “The elderly, children and women … are now in urgent need of food, clothes, medications and most of all, comfort and warmth in this harsh winter.”

CNEWA’s campaign also will bolster outreach by the Society of St Vincent de Paul, which currently aids more than 850 families in the Aleppo region through local churches’ extensive network of parishes and schools. Through CNEWA, the society will receive mattresses, pillows, blankets, food, water and medicines, as well as milk, infant formula and diapers.

In the Syrian city of Hama, about 153 miles from the epicentre of the earthquake, CNEWA will assist three emergency shelters for more than 150 families who have lost their homes due to the quakes.

“We lived and survived the long years of war but never experienced this kind of fear,” said Bishop Abdo Abrash of the Melkite Catholic Eparchy of Homs, Hama and Yabroud, which is running the shelters. “It is true misery . . . there is a lack of first aid equipment to tend to the survivors.”

Constantin said amid the “chaotic” situation on the ground, “this is a critical moment to help heal those who have survived, those who ‘saw death,’ as one of our partners told me.”

Along with financial support, prayer remains an essential response to the tragedy, said Msgr. Vaccari.

“Even though we at CNEWA are accustomed to tragedies and emergencies, we are not immune to their toll,” he said. “We ask for your prayers of support and consolation for the victims of this horror, your prayers for those who have lost their lives and those who mourn them.”

Photo: An earthquake survivor stands next to the site of a collapsed building in Kahramanmaras, Turkey, on February 8, 2023 (OSV News photo/Dilara Senkaya, Reuters)


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Michael Otto

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