ARCHBISHOP Adrian Doyle of Hobart was heartened by a personal message from Pope Benedict XVI early in the week as Tasmania continued its battle against bushfires.
“Pope Benedict said he was saddened to learn of the widespread destruction caused by the Tasmanian bushfires,” Archbishop Doyle said.
“He commended the firefighters and emergency services for their efforts to protect the community and prays that assistance and support will be speedily available to those who have lost their homes or are otherwise affected.”
The Pope’s message was conveyed through Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone.
Queen Elizabeth II and the Prince of Wales were among other world leaders to send messages of sympathy and support.
Prime Minister Julia Gillard visited the fire-devastated region of Dunalley on Monday to discuss post-disaster relief needs and to pledge federal assistance.
Catholic agencies – the St Vincent de Paul Society and Centacare – have volunteers on the ground to assist those affected by the fires.
Archbishop Doyle said a special bushfire collection would be taken up at all Masses in parishes across Tasmania this weekend.
The money raised will be directed to the St Vincent de Paul Society Tasmania Vinnies Bushfire Appeal.
As of Tuesday (January 8), more than 100 homes had been destroyed, as well as a school, an RSL club, and businesses and shacks.
Dunalley, on the east coast, was the worst-hit, with about 65 homes and the town’s school destroyed, and dozens more buildings were razed at Connellys Marsh, Eaglehawk Neck, Murdunna, Copping and Primrose Sands.
Tasmania Police were still searching properties around Dunalley and to the north of the town following concerns that as many as 100 locals and visitors were unaccounted for.
Essential supplies continued to be shipped and airlifted into bushfire zones with a number of people unable to return to their homes.
As many as 1200 locals and visitors were in refuges, due to road closures caused by fallen powerlines and trees.
Authorities were warning that the bushfire threat was far from over.
Archbishop Doyle said the fires had been devastating, particularly for families that had lost their homes.
“We have seen the best of the Tasmanian spirit in the wonderful response of our emergency services and the hard work of those providing shelter and support and those who are working to restore power and other services,” he said.
“However, rebuilding and recovery is going to take a long time and will need the support of all of us.”
Tasmanian state president of the St Vincent de Paul Society Vin Hindmarsh said the Vinnies appeal being launched in parishes around Tasmania this weekend would provide both financial and material aid to help people to rebuild their lives.
Ongoing assistance will include emotional support, friendship and home visitation.
To donate, visit www.vinnies.org.au/tas or phone 131 812 or (03) 6333 0822 during business hours.
The Red Cross has also launched a Tasmanian Bushfires 2013 Appeal, and encouraged Australians to give generously. Donations can be made at www.redcross.org.au or by calling 1800 811 700.