The destruction that hit the Catholic Church of Iskenderun in Turkey as a result of the earthquake. ABOUNA RIFAT BADER VIA CARITAS EUROPA

By AC Wimmer

Catholic News Agency

February 7, 2023

VATICAN— Pope Francis and local Church leaders on Monday reacted with dismay and calls for prayer following a devastating earthquake in Turkey and Syria.

According to Reuters, the series of earthquakes — up to 7.8 magnitude — killed about 1,700 people and injured thousands more, with many people still trapped under the rubble Monday. Figures were expected to grow in the coming hours.

The U.S. Geological Survey reported the overnight quake struck at a depth of 11 miles.

A “deeply saddened” Pope Francis sent “heartfelt condolences to those who mourn their loss” in telegrams addressed to the apostolic nuncios of Turkey and Syria.

The telegrams — signed by the Vatican secretary of state, Cardinal Pietro Parolin — said Pope Francis prayed “that the emergency personnel will be sustained in their care of the injured and in the ongoing relief efforts by the divine gifts of fortitude and perseverance.”

The pope also affirmed “his spiritual solidarity” with the “long-suffering Syrian people.”

In Syria, which has been ravaged by more than a decade of civil war, countless buildings collapsed Feb. 6, including several Catholic churches, reported ACI MENA, CNA’s Arabic-language partner agency.

Syrian Catholic Patriarch Mar Ignatius Ephrem Josef III Younan called on the local faithful to pray.

The patriarch is currently on an official visit to Syrian dioceses in Iraq. He is Syriac Catholic patriarch of Antioch and heads the Syriac Catholic Church.

Patriarch Younan asked the Lord to have mercy on the souls of the victims, heal the wounded, stand by those affected, and support all those who provide aid and assistance to the injured and affected, ACI MENA reported.

Moreover, the Church leader expressed his solidarity — and prayers — for all those affected by the earthquakes.
Among the many victims, the body of Father Imad Daher, a priest of the Greek Melkite Catholic Parish of Our Lady, was found under the rubble — after many hours of searching for the priest.

According to the Catholic humanitarian organization Aid to the Church in Need (ACN), Daher died when the residence of the former archbishop of Aleppo, Jean-Clément Jeanbart, collapsed. Jeanbart narrowly escaped and is currently being treated for his wounds in a hospital, though he is said to be stable, ACN said in a statement Monday. Another Christian man who was in the building at the time also died, the organization said.

ACN reported that many cities and towns with a significant Christian population, such as Aleppo, Homs, Lattakia, and Hama, suffered major damage.

Among the buildings damaged were the Syriac Orthodox Cathedral of St. George in Aleppo and the Franciscan Church in Lattakia, ACN reported. The ACN-supported Hope Center, also in Aleppo, sustained minor damage, the organization said.

“The Church in Syria is shocked by the catastrophe. Even as far away as Beirut, people went down to the streets, worried that another explosion was about to unsettle their country,” Regina Lynch, director of projects for ACN International, said in a statement Monday.

According to a statement by the Custody of the Holy Land, a Franciscan priest in Aleppo, Father Bahjat Karakach, reported “at least 40 buildings have been destroyed and many people are still trapped under the rubble.”

The friars opened the doors of their convent to the inhabitants seeking help, the priest reported. “We have taken people into the church here, from this morning, then we celebrated Mass and opened the hall to accommodate the people and give them all something to eat; our kitchen, which usually distributes 1,200 meals a day to the poor, will do its utmost today to help everyone who is homeless and cannot eat.”


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