YAOUNDÈ, Cameroon – As Morocco continues to struggle to cope with its worst earthquake to strike a major urban center in a century, which so far has left almost 3,000 people dead and at least that number injured, Catholic leaders are scrambling to contribute to the relief effort.
Rescue teams are engaged in a race against time as they dig up the rubble in desperate attempts to find survivors. The 6.8-magnitude earthquake struck the country late Friday night, and goes into record as the deadliest in the country since 2004, when a 6.3-magnitude earthquake struck the port city of Al Hoceima.
The epicenter of Friday’s quake was not far from popular tourist and economic hub Marrakech, accounting for the high numbers of dead and injured. It damaged towns and villages near the base of the Atlas Mountains, while also ripping through the center and suburbs of Marrakech.
The sheer level of devastation has got global leaders showing solidarity. Pope Francis on Sunday offered prayers for the victims as he addressed crowds at St Peter’s Square shortly after delivering his Angelus message.
“I pray for the injured, for those who have lost their lives,” the pontiff said. “We stand with the people of Morocco.”
Earlier on Saturday, Francis, through the Vatican Secretary of State, Cardinal Pietro Parolin sent a telegram to Moroccan authorities expressing his sadness and solidarity with the people of the northern African country in their moment of need.
“Having learned with sorrow of the earthquake that violently struck Morocco, His Holiness pope Francis wishes to express his prayerful communion in the face of this natural disaster,” the letter said.
“Saddened by this event, the pope expresses his profound solidarity with those who are touched in their flesh and heart by this tragedy: he prays for the repose of the dead, the healing of the injured and the consolation of those who mourn the loss of their loved ones and their homes.”
“The Holy Father prays to the Most High to support Moroccans in this time of trial and offers his encouragement to the civil authorities and rescue services. He willingly invokes divine blessings on all as a token of comfort,” Parolin’s letter said.
The church in Morocco has also been expressing closeness to those afflicted by the tragedy.
“Let us pray with Our Lady of Morocco for the victims and their families,” said the Archdiocese of Rabat in a September 9 statement. The diocese has churches in Marrakech and Ouarzazate, two localities affected by the earthquake.
The statement expressed solidarity “especially for those Moroccan families who are mourning or who have injured family members.”
“We are appealing for emotional and effective solidarity with those in distress at this time,” it said.
“May God help us to draw positive consequences from this painful event, by transforming our hearts into hearts of mercy, solidarity and tenderness towards our brothers and sisters in distress.”
Caritas, the charitable wing of the Catholic Church, also has joined Francis in expressing solidarity with the Moroccan people.
In a statement September 10, Caritas Internationalis announced that it was working “to provide immediate relief and support to those affected by this tragedy. Our organization is in continuous communication with Caritas Morocco, and we are actively collaborating with Caritas Middle East and other Caritas Members worldwide.”
“Together, we are dedicated to conducting assessments and coordinating a comprehensive response in the hours and days ahead,” the statement said.
Caritas reaffirmed its commitment “to alleviating the suffering caused by this devastating earthquake. Our mission is to extend a helping hand to those in need and to embody the message of love, compassion, and solidarity that Pope Francis exemplifies.”
The Catholic mobilization comes despite the fact the Morocco is an overwhelmingly Muslim nation, with an estimated 24,000 Catholics acocunting for the less than one percent of a total population of 31 million.
Meanwhile, the international community has been swift in responding to the disaster. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said he was ready to employ all means to help Morocco.
“Firstly, I wish God’s mercy on our brothers who lost their lives and a speedy recovery to those injured in the strong earthquake that occurred in Morocco,” Erdogan said, speaking on the sidelines of the G20 Summit in New Delhi, India.
“In the name of my country and people, I hope all the people of Morocco get better soon. As a country that experienced the disaster of the century only six months ago, we are ready to help our Moroccan brothers with all our means,” he said.
French President Emmanuel Macron has said if the Moroccan government were to request aid, France will do so.
“We have mobilized all technical and security teams to be able to intervene when the Moroccan authorities deem it useful,” Macron told reporters.
Spain has already sent 56 rescuers and four search dogs to the quake-hit nation after it received a formal request for assistance from Rabat.
Moroccan Prime Minister Aziz Akhannouch said in a statement that the government continues to take measures aimed at following up and supporting relief effort.
“In this great tragedy, I acknowledge the tremendous efforts made by the public authorities with great professionalism and great mobilization,” he said.
Catholic Relief Services, the overseas development arm of the U.S. bishops’ conference, released a statement indicating it is supporting the Caritas relief effort.
“During and after such profound crises, the Church and Caritas are often the first to respond due to their long-standing presence in hard-to-reach communities where they are already a trusted source of care,” the CRS statement said.
“Our Caritas partners are adept at pivoting quickly to meet emergency needs in ways that directly involve the people they serve in decision-making. This is a strategy that upholds CRS’ commitment to subsidiarity—the belief that local challenges are met at a local level,” it said.