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Earthquake In Syria And Turkey, Prayer And Church Commitment For 23 Million Human Beings

The earthquake in Syria and Turkey devastated two peoples and shook the souls of millions of people around the world

Earthquake in Syria and Turkey, 23 million people affected and over 5,000 dead

The death and injury toll from yesterday’s devastating earthquake between Turkey and Syria shows no sign of stopping.

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The search and rescue operations, although intense and relentless, are inadequate in the face of the unprecedented power of the earthquake.

The WHO, to give an idea of the gravity of the situation, estimates the final death toll at around 20,000.

A shocking scenario.

WHO: earthquake toll in Syria and Turkey could exceed 20,000 dead

The latest update from the authorities reports 3,600 confirmed dead in Turkey.

Hundreds are missing and about 20,000 are injured, many of them seriously.

Also according to the Turkish authorities, 5600 buildings have collapsed.

In Syria there are at least 812 confirmed dead in the areas of the country controlled by the Damascus government and another 790 deaths reported in the areas of north-western Syria under opposition control, the White Helmets explained.

In total, more than 5,000 people have died as a result of the earthquake, but the death toll is inexorably set to rise and could even exceed 20,000: this is the estimate by Catherine Smallwood, head of emergencies for Europe at the World Health Organisation.

“Unfortunately, the same thing always happens with earthquakes: the initial reports on the number of people killed or injured increase significantly in the following week,” the WHO representative explained.

According to the organisation’s estimates, the earthquake affected at least 23 million people.

Meanwhile, the work of the rescuers continues unabated: Turkish Deputy Prime Minister Fuat Oktay reported that more than 8,000 people have been rescued in Turkey, although there were 312 aftershocks during the night.

The relatives of the missing are not losing hope. About thirty hours after the earthquake, a woman and her three children were pulled out of the rubble of a collapsed building in the Nizip district of Gaziantep.

Rescue teams have already left from several European countries, the EU and NATO are mobilising to support Ankara in the emergency.

EU Emergency Commissioner Janez Lenarcic reports that 27 rescue teams from 19 different countries have been mobilised.

Pope Francis, a thought for Turkey

In a telegram signed by the Cardinal Secretary of State, Pietro Parolin, and addressed to the nuncio to Turkey, Monsignor Marek Solczyński, Pope Francis expresses “profound sadness” for the “enormous loss of life” due to the earthquake in the south-east of the country.

The Pope assures his “spiritual closeness to all those affected” and entrusts “those who died to the loving mercy of the Almighty”, offering condolences “to those who mourn their loss”.

The Pope does not fail to address a thought to the emergency personnel, in these hours active amidst collapsed buildings and razed cities, that “they may be sustained by the divine gifts of fortitude and perseverance in caring for the wounded and in the ongoing relief efforts”.

In prayer for Syria “long suffering”

Francis then addressed the nuncio in Damascus, Cardinal Mario Zenari, with the same sentiments.

In another telegram, also signed by Cardinal Parolin, the Pontiff said he was “deeply saddened” by the deaths in the earthquake that struck northwestern Syria.

He offers “heartfelt prayers for the souls of the dead and for all those who mourn them” and entrusts “those affected by this catastrophe to the providence of the Almighty”.

The Pope renews his special prayers for the emergency personnel involved in the relief efforts during these hours and, “as a renewed sign of his spiritual solidarity”, he invokes on the Syrian people “who have been suffering for so long”, the “divine blessing of strength and peace”.

Father Bahjat: Earthquake devastation, Aleppo parish on the front line

The north of Syria is one of the areas of the country most devastated by 12 years of conflict, and in Aleppo the destruction caused by the earthquake is added to that still present from the bombing.

The civilian population has experienced this earthquake with even more fear and terror than during the bombing, as Father Bahjat, parish priest of the Latin Church of St. Francis in Aleppo, tells Vatican News.

On this first night after the earthquake, the parish housed almost 500 people, including the elderly, children and frightened families who, like others in the city, are seeking refuge in the Church because it is considered a more solid structure than their “seriously damaged fragile houses”.

2000 hot meals for the whole community

“We don’t have mattresses and blankets for everyone and these 500 people have been sleeping on chairs,” the priest recounts. “However, we have provided them with the necessary food and drink.

The tremors have diminished but now we have to assess the damage and see how many people will not be able to return to their homes”.

Bahjat also points out that the very harsh weather conditions, with heavy rain and cold, are not helping the work of the relief teams.

In this corniche,” the parish priest goes on to say, “the parish of Saint Francis has its doors open for everyone, and yesterday alone it distributed about 2,000 hot meals, five hundred of which were sent to the hardest hit areas, which are in eastern Aleppo, where there is more fragile building.

“The distribution of meals will go on as long as we manage,” promises Father Bahjat.

St Francis’ bell towers damaged by the earthquake

The church of St. Francis in Aleppo has recently had its dome restored, damaged by bombing during the bloodiest years of the war.

This earthquake “seriously” damaged the two bell towers but the general structure of the church seems to have withstood the impact of the quake well.

Everyone tells me that last night’s panic was something they did not experience even during the war,” Father Bahjat emphasises. “The tremor was very strong and lasted a long time, there is still fear and we all slept with one eye open last night, but the tremors are lessening, we hope that the worst is over, this morning people have gone to check the state of their homes.

The nuncio’s visit

The Syrian priest in these hours is receiving many calls from all over the world, from ‘friends’ who want to provide help to the people affected by the earthquake.

“The problem is that post-conflict construction has never started, everything is held back by the embargo that isolates us from the international community,” Bahjat explains, “there are no investments, there is a lot of corruption and people continue to emigrate, no solution comes from a policy of sanctions.

While the universal Church and the Syrian Church are organising the aid to be brought to the ground, the parish priest of St Francis in Aleppo will meet the apostolic nuncio, Cardinal Mario Zenari, who will arrive from Damascus to show his closeness to the stricken community: “They have already warned me that there will be a series of meetings between the Syrian bishops and the Catholic realities to coordinate an intervention strategy”.

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