YAOUNDÈ, Cameroon – After a deadly tropical cyclone ripped through southern Africa, killing more than 400 people at latest count, the Catholic bishops of the region are calling for help to allow those affected to “restore their lost human dignity.”

The bishops of Mozambique made the appeal in a March 16 statement, a copy of which was sent to Crux. In addition to the loss of life, Cyclone Freddy has also destroyed homes, property and farmlands in the affected areas.

“In the spirit of brotherhood and brotherly love, we first want to express our solidarity with all those brothers and sisters who have been directly or indirectly affected and encourage them to lift their spirits, as we believe that with God, they will overcome this tragedy,” said the statement, which was signed by Archbishop Inácio Saúre of Nampula and president of Mozambique’s bishops’ conference.

“We want to appeal to all Catholic Christians, people of goodwill, and our partners to join forces to help our brothers and sisters seriously affected by cyclone Freddy to restore their lost human dignity,” the bishops said.

The statement said the cyclone particularly affected the dioceses of Quelimane, Tete, Beira, and Lichinga, “having severely hit the city of Quelimane and its surroundings, again leaving many families out in the open and infrastructure destroyed, in addition to causing the loss of dozens of human lives.”

“Expressing our sincere thanks in advance for all that you can do for the victims of cyclone Freddy, we implore God’s abundant blessings for all,” the clerics said.

In Malawi, the Bishops urged “all Catholics, and people of good will, to stand with the victims of this devastating cyclone and immediately begin to donate whatever they can, in money and in kind, to help the victims who have been affected and are suffering from the effects of the cyclone.”

The clerics in their March 14 statement said they were shocked and saddened by “the devastating effects of Cyclone Freddy.”

These appeals are already generating responses.

In Zambia, the Catholic Church in the Copperbelt Province is already mobilizing financial and material resources to support the victims.

The Bishop of the Catholic Diocese of Ndola, Benjamin Phiri, has called on his Christians to show “solidarity” with the people of Malawi as he appealed for “donations in form of money and material support like clothes, shoes, beddings, meals and other usable items. “

In exclusive comments to Crux, two Catholic leaders described the disturbing situation in both Malawi and Mozambique.

Sekunda Chimwemwe, National Coordinator of the Catholic Development Commission of Malawi, told Crux that the cyclone hit Malawi right after a wave of flash floods in the southern region. At point of impact, almost nine districts of the southern region felt significant effects, with Blantyre being the most hit.”

“To date, over 18,000 households have been displaced, the death toll was at 326 as of March 15, [while] 201 people are missing and over 100,000 households have been affected,” Chimwemwe said.

She also spoke about damaged infrastructure, including schools, health facilities, and bridges.

“Hospitals are overwhelmed with limited supplies. Worse off are children with no blankets and some with no guardians. Sanitary facilities such as toilets have been damaged, risking a cholera spike among other waterborne diseases,” Chimwemwe told Crux.

In Mozambique, Rude Matinada, a lecturer at the Catholic University of Mozambique, Quelimane campus, told a similar story.

“It was a very devastating phenomenon,” he said, and explained that “many houses were destroyed, many people lost their families, their property, many infrastructures were damaged resulting in many public services unable to function.”

Chimwemwe told Crux that the Church has been responding “through provision of relief items such as blankets, buckets, chlorine and support to the search and rescue teams through volunteers. The church has continued to engage caritas partners for more support and include Trocaire, SCIAF, CRS, Caritas Australia and many others.”

She lauded the government of Malawi for being proactive in information generation through local and District level structures and high-level coordination at the Emergency Operations Centre (EOC) in Blantyre.

“Government institutions including the MDF, police and health personnel have been supporting rescue services even though they continue to be overwhelmed,” she told Crux.

The cyclone formed off the coast of Australia in early February. It then crossed the Indian Ocean, and then travelled over 5000 miles to Africa’s coast.

Recovery won’t be easy.

In the aftermath of Freddy, Mozambique’s government has announced $4 million in funds to start rebuilding. And Malawi — which saw six months’ worth of rain in six days – has earmarked $3 million for reconstruction and also called for more international help. The United Nations has released $10 million in emergency funds.