Pope Francis on Thursday said he was “deeply moved” by the suffering caused by the impact of Hurricane Harvey in Houston and other parts of Texas and Louisiana, producing what the pontiff described as a “tragic loss of life” and “immense material devastation.”
The pope also expressed his “spiritual closeness” to the victims, and urged Americans to call upon their tradition of generosity in responding to the needs created by the storm.
Francis “trusts that the immense and immediate needs of so many individuals and communities will continue to inspire a vast outpouring of solidarity and mutual aid in the best traditions of the nation,” a message released by the Vatican on Thursday said.
As is customary in situations of tragedy and natural disaster, the message was signed by Italian Cardinal Pietro Parolin, the Vatican’s Secretary of State, and addressed to Cardinal Daniel DiNardo of Galveston-Houston – in this case, not in his role as President of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, but as the bishop of the affected area.
So far, Hurricane Harvey is believed to have caused 38 confirmed deaths, including 37 in the United States and one in Guyana, and preliminary estimates of the property damage range from $10 billion to $160 billion.
Harvey made landfall late on August 25, and is said to have produced more than 40 inches of rain over a four-day period. That makes Harvey the wettest tropical cyclone on record ever to have made landfall in the United States.
“His Holiness Pope Francis asks you kindly to convey the assurance of his spiritual closeness and pastoral concern to all those affected by the violent hurricane that swept through the states of Texas and Louisiana in these days,” read the message signed by Parolin.
“Deeply moved by the tragic loss of life and the immense material devastation that this natural catastrophe has left in its wake, he prays for the victims and their families, and for all those engaged in the vital work of relief, recovery and rebuilding,” it said.
“He likewise trusts that the immense and immediate needs of so many individuals and communities will continue to inspire a vast outpouring of solidarity and mutual aid in the best traditions of the nation,” the message said.
“With these sentiments, and with the renewed promise of his prayers, the Holy Father sends his blessing as a pledge of consolation, strength and peace in the Lord,” it concluded.
The U.S. bishops’ conference has called on dioceses across the United States to take up a special collection to fund relief efforts for hurricane victims on the weekends of either September 1-2 or September 8-9.
“Our hearts and prayers go out to the families that have lost loved ones and to all who have lost homes and businesses along with their sense of peace and normalcy,” said a letter on Tuesday from Archbishop Jose Gomez of Los Angeles, Vice President of the conference.
“We also stand with our brother bishops in the region who have the difficult task of providing pastoral care in these most trying times while managing their own losses. Our prayerful and financial support is urgently needed,” Gomez said.