CRUX STAFF – Pope Francis issued appeals for quake-stricken Syria and Turkey on Sunday, as well as for war-torn Ukraine, and for the people of New Zealand who are reeling from a powerful cyclone.
“The love of Jesus asks us to let ourselves be touched by the situations of those who are tried,” Francis said after praying the Angelus on Sunday with pilgrims and tourists gathered in St. Peter’s Square.
“I am thinking especially of Syria and Turkey, of the many victims of the earthquake, but also of the daily tragedies of the dear Ukrainian people and of many peoples who suffer because of war, because of poverty, lack of freedom, environmental devastation.”
“In this sense,” Francis said, “I am close to the people in New Zealand, hit in recent days by a devastating cyclone.”
Cyclone Gabrielle made landfall a week ago on New Zealand’s North Island, bringing powerful winds and torrents of rain that caused widespread destruction. Eleven people are confirmed dead and 5,600 others remain unreachable.
In Ukraine, fighting continues nearly a year after Russia launched a full-scale invasion of its neighbor on February 24, 2022. Scores of thousands of people have perished in the conflict, and hundreds of thousands of others have fled their homes.
International tensions around the war remain high. China this week was reportedly considering whether to offer Russia lethal assistance, and US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken warning China against sharing weapons with Russia or helping Russia to evade international sanctions.
Blinken is scheduled to visit quake-stricken Turkey this week, as part of US efforts to convince Turkey – a NATO member – to support NATO the membership bids of Sweden and Finland, strategically significant in light of the ongoing conflict in Ukraine. A press release from the US State Department says Blinken is “to see firsthand U.S. efforts to assist the Turkish authorities responding to the devastation caused by the February 6 earthquakes,” before travelling to the Turkish capital, Ankara, for meetings with Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu and other senior Turkish officials.
On the agenda for those meetings are continued U.S. support in the wake of the recent quakes, “as well as ways to further strengthen” US-Turkish partnership “as a valued NATO ally,” and to request Turkish government help with “cross-border aid to affected areas of Syria.”
Syria and Turkey were hit February 6 by one of the most powerful earthquakes to strike the region in nearly a thousand years, which was followed by a series of smaller but still powerful aftershocks. The official death toll from the seismic events was at 46,000 as of this Sunday morning. Rescue efforts in Turkey were shifting to recovery operations, though people were still being miraculously found alive amid the rubble heading into the weekend.
In Syria, medical relief crews were reaching remote areas in the country’s northwest on Sunday morning, after some difficulty. A 14-truck convoy operated by Médecins Sans Frontières reached hard-hit areas in northwestern Syria, which is controlled by insurgents fighting government forces under the control of Syrian president Bashar al-Assad.
International aid and relief agencies including the World Health Organization say as many as 26 million people stand in need of urgent and ongoing assistance across both Syria and Turkey.
“Brothers and sisters,” said Pope Francis in his appeal, “let us not forget those who suffer and let us make sure that our charity is attentive, that it is a concrete charity.”