VATICAN CITY (CNS): Pope Benedict XVI has appealed to the world community to be merciful and generous by offering aid and working to relieve the suffering caused by Cyclone Nargis, which killed tens of thousands in Myanmar (Burma).
During his May 7 general audience in St Peter’s Square, the Pope called on people to open their hearts “to compassion and generosity so that with the collaboration of all who are able and want to lend help, the suffering caused by this huge tragedy can be alleviated”.
When the Pope spoke, more than 22,000 people had been killed, 41,000 were missing and 1 million were homeless after the cyclone swept over southern Myanmar on May 3.
The cyclone damaged at least three major cities, including Yangon, the capital of Myanmar and its largest city.
Earlier, in a telegram sent on behalf of the Pope by the Vatican secretary of state Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, the Pope had expressed deep sadness and “heartfelt sympathy” after hearing news of “the tragic aftermath” of the disaster.
The Pope said he was praying for the victims and their families and called for “divine strength and comfort upon the homeless and all who are suffering”.
A copy of the telegram, addressed to president of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Myanmar Archbishop Paul Zinghtung Grawng of Mandalay was released by the Vatican on May 6.
The Pope said he was “confident that the international community will respond with generous and effective relief to the needs” of those hit by the cyclone.
In Thailand and India, Catholic agencies prepared relief efforts for neighbouring Myanmar, the Asian Church news agency UCA News reported.
Director of the Thai bishops’ Office for Emergency Relief and Refugees Fr Pibul Visitnontachai told UCA News on May 7 that the Myanmar Embassy had just given permission for a Church team to go there.
He said his request to send representatives was turned down, but he reapplied in the name of Caritas after Caritas Internationalis officials meeting in Rome on May 4 resolved to let the Thai Church lead its response to the disaster.
Caritas Internationalis is a confederation of 162 Catholic relief, development and social service organisations.