ROME – As the Italian island of Sardinia continues to be ravaged by what locals have described as “apocalyptic” fires, bishops locally and nationally have said they are close to those who are suffering, or who have lost everything.
In a statement earlier this week, the bishops of Sardinia said two things were on their minds as fires continue to envelop much of the island: “Proximity to the people and sadness of heart.”
“As bishops of Sardinia, we feel a sense of infinite dismay in seeing once again, due to fires, our people suffer and our land burn,” they said.
Fast-spreading fires in Sardinia, which has a population of roughly 1.64 million, have so far destroyed roughly 50,000 acres of forest and have forced 1,500 people to be evacuated from homes.
Many agricultural businesses and private properties have also been damaged by the blazes, which began Saturday in the province of Oristano and have spread quickly to surrounding areas.
In an act of international solidarity, the European Union deployed four firefighting planes on Sunday as backup for the 11 aircrafts working to extinguish the fires, which are currently threatening 13 towns.
So far efforts to slow or put out the fires have been hampered by strong, hot winds, prompting local papers to dub the fires “apocalyptic,” warning that the total damage could be worst than the major fires of 1983 and 1994.
The 1983 fire, which began in July of that year in Curraggia, first broke out in the southwestern city of Tempio Pausania and in neighborhoods of Aggius and Bortigiadas, destroying nearly 4,500 acres of land, killing nine people, and wounding 15 others.
Similarly, the fire of 1994 burned nearly 60,000 acres of forest to the ground, destroying swaths of land in the areas of Seneghe, Bonarcado, Cuglieri, Santu Lussurgiu, and Scano Montiferro.
Over the weekend, around 400 people were evacuated from their homes in the Sardinian town of Scano di Montiferro, with hundreds more forced to evacuate nearby villages.
There is fear that as the blazes drag on, they could soon spread to Nuoro, one of the island’s most important cities.
As more than 7,000 firefighters and volunteers work to extinguish the fires, regional authorities have declared a “state of calamity” and are seeking funds from the central government to repair damages and support those who have been impacted financially.
The region’s Caritas offices are collaborating with the diocese most severely impacted by the fires, Alghero-Bosa, to evaluate current needs and develop an action plan for recovery efforts.
In their statement, Sardinia’s bishops said theirs “is a cry of pain and solidarity for those who have seen their farms, businesses, and products devastated” before their eyes.
They condemned such a disastrous “affront” to nature, which they said is “never too much appreciated or defended,” and voiced hope that a cause for the fires will be quickly ascertained and those responsible will be held to account.
It is tragedies such as this, they said, that helps humanity to rediscover “when a peaceful encounter between man and the environment is threatened, how decisive is a formation which, thanks to respect for creation, allows us to watch over the world that surrounds us like a garden, according to the plan of God.”
“In sharing with the bishops of the affected territories the concern for what is happening, we thank all those who are working to help the affected populations: law enforcement and firefighters, forest rangers, and volunteers,” the bishops said, and encouraged those in political office to tackle the issue “with adequate means,” choosing legislative measures aimed at prevention.
Italian Cardinal Gualtiero Bassetti of Perugia, president of the Italian Bishops’ Conference, also weighed in on behalf of the bishops of Italy, voicing his “closeness and solidarity” to the people of Sardinia, who he said have been “put to the test by fires that are causing incalculable damage.
“In Sardinia more than [50,000 acres] of forest and agricultural land has gone up in smoke, and numerous companies and houses have burned,” he said, noting that in addition the environmental damage done, “there are thousands of displaced people and a slaughter of animals,” which are a source of livelihood “and a fundamental resource for the region’s economy.”
He also voiced concern and closeness to those impacted by severe weather and flooding in northern Italy, which has caused significant damage, particularly in the area near Como.
“In expressing gratitude to those – law enforcement agencies, civil protection, and volunteers – who are working to reclaim the affected areas and bring aid and concrete solidarity, I assure my prayers and that of the whole Church in Italy, gathering around how many have lost their homes and jobs,” he said.
In light of the natural disasters ravaging portions of Italy, Bassetti echoed Pope Francis’s frequent call “take care of mother earth, overcoming the temptation of selfishness that makes us predators,” and to cultivate respect “for the gifts of creation, adopting a new lifestyle and promoting a society attentive to creation. “
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