Pope Francis prayed today for the people of Turkey and Syria, who are suffering after devastating earthquakes killed more than 28,000 people.
“Dear brothers and sisters, let us continue to be close with prayer and concrete support to the earthquake victims in Syria and Turkey,” the pope said in his Angelus address on Feb. 12.
Speaking from the window of the Apostolic Palace, Pope Francis described how he was moved by the images of pain and suffering from the catastrophe that he saw on television and urged people to “pray and think of what we can do for them.”
The pope spoke as rescue efforts continued over the weekend, with rescuers pulling more than a dozen survivors out of the rubble on Saturday, according to the Associated Press.
Among the survivors, a Syrian man who was trapped under rubble for nearly five days said that he survived by drinking dirty drips of water until he was rescued on Friday night.
The United Nations reports that millions have been left homeless after two back-to-back earthquakes on Feb. 6 led thousands of buildings to collapse in parts of Turkey and Syria.
Catholic charities are working to respond to the disaster by providing shelter, food, and other humanitarian aid.
According to the director of Caritas Syria, the earthquake heavily impacted northwest Syria, where 4.1 million people were already in need of humanitarian assistance after more than a decade of civil war. The charity is opening shelters in Aleppo, Hama, and Lattakia to help protect those who lost their homes from the cold and the snow.
Caritas Turkey has opened a listening centre hotline to provide help to victims in partnership with the local authorities, in addition to distributing hot meals and clothes.
The Catholic humanitarian organization Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) has pledged more than $500,000 to help local Churches in Syria to provide aid after the earthquake at a time when international aid organizations are facing difficulties getting help into Syria.
“We are working with the Franciscans in Lattakia, who are providing blankets and food for displaced families,” said Xavier Bisits, head of ACN’s Lebanon and Syria section, who travelled to Aleppo immediately after the earthquake.
Joop Koopman, a spokesman for ACN, told CNA that the charity is focused on providing blankets, milk for infants, and medical supplies. In addition, engineers are inspecting houses making sure families can safely return to their homes, while many shelter in churches and church buildings.
At the end of the Angelus address, Pope Francis also asked people not to forget to pray for the “martyred Ukraine” that the Lord may “open paths of peace and give those in charge the courage to walk them.”
The pope said that he was “grieved” by the news coming from Nicaragua after the dictatorship of Daniel Ortega sentenced Bishop Rolando Álvarez Lago of Matagalpa to 26 years in prison on Feb. 10.
“We also ask the Lord, through the intercession of the Immaculate Virgin Mary, to open the hearts of political leaders and all citizens to the sincere search for peace, which is born of truth, justice, freedom, and love and is achieved through the patient exercise of dialogue,” he said.
In his reflection on the Gospel, Pope Francis encouraged Christians not to settle for doing “the bare minimum” of formal religious observance but to be like God, who loves “to the maximum.”
“True love is never up to a certain point and is never satisfied; love goes beyond,” he said.
“The Lord showed us this by giving his life on the cross and forgiving his murderers (cf. Lk 23:34). And he entrusted to us the commandment most dear to him: that we love each other like he loved us (cf. Jn 15:12). This is the love that gives fulfilment to the Law, fulfilment to faith, fulfilment to life.”
Pope Francis encouraged people to reflect on whether they are “keeping up a facade” or truly trying to grow in love for God and love for others.
“And every now and then, do I check myself on Jesus’ great commandment? Do I ask myself if I love my neighbour as He loves me? Because perhaps we are inflexible in judging others and forget to be merciful, as God is with us,” he said.
“May Mary, who observed the Word of God perfectly, help us to give fulfilment to our faith and our charity.”