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Pope prays for Canberra fire disaster victims

The Holy Father has offered his prayers for the people of Canberra and the city's firefighters.

"He invokes divine blessings of strength and consolation," the Vatican said in a statement. "His Holiness likewise prays for the firefighters and all involved in providing assistance to those who have been made homeless, encouraging them to continue their efforts to bring relief and support."

The Pope conveyed his message of solidarity to Archbishop Francis Carroll of Canberra-Goulburn through the Vatican's Secretary of State, Cardinal Angelo Sodano.

"Having learned with sadness of the tragic consequences of the fire which has devastated parts of Canberra and the surrounding countryside, His Holiness Pope John Paul II has asked me to convey to all the assurance of His prayers," the statement said.

The Pope's prayers came as the official number of houses destroyed rose to 540. Canberra's bushfire threat eased yesterday as the focus of concern shifted to north-east Victoria. However high temperatures and northerly winds forecast for the weekend are likely to pose a fresh threat to residents and property in the national capital.


Pope John Paul II sends prayers, blessing to bushfire victims (text of statement)
Religious congregations acknowledge Canberra fires emergency workers (22/1/03)
Bishops visit Canberra evacuation centres (The Catholic Weekly)
Australian Conference of Leaders of Religious Institutes
Canberra Archbishop pledges prayers, assistance to fire victims (21/1/03)
Archdiocese of Canberra-Goulburn


NSW President of the St Vincent de Paul Society, Pat O'Flynn yesterday announced a disaster appeal inviting the people of NSW to come to the aid of their ACT neighbours.

"After the shock of the weekend's tragic events has abated, the long task of people rebuilding their lives begins," he said. "This task is difficult for all fire victims, but for those people already living on the edge of poverty, losing everything, often without any insurance, creates a complete sense of hopelessness. "

Mr O'Flynn said he hoped the ACT Government is including tenants of housing department accommodation that have lost their homes in the $10,000 emergency grant "as a matter of justice".

"Their need to re-establish often without the backup of any assets is arguably greater than other victims," he said.

St Vincent de Paul volunteers have worked along side colleagues from other charities and emergency services supporting thousands of people evacuated from their homes. While Vinnies' role of providing distressed evacuees with a bed to sleep on and toiletries and fresh clothes were necessary and important, the next and more challenging task will be to help people re-establish their lives.

Mr O'Flynn is also inviting donations for the ongoing support of NSW and ACT communities in the grip of drought. The number for telephone donations is 13 18 12.

St Vincent de Paul Society

23 Jan 2003