EDMONTON (CCN) — Pope Francis has added his name to the list of people offering condolences to those affected by the massive forest fire that has led to the evacuation of Fort McMurray.
In a May 6 letter to St. Paul Bishop Paul Terrio, the pope said he “was saddened to learn of the destruction and distress caused by the extensive fires around Fort McMurray.”
The pope said he was praying “for all the displaced, especially the children, who have lost their homes and livelihoods.”
He also asked the Lord to bless civil authorities and those co-ordinating the evacuation and providing shelter for the nearly 90,000 people left homeless.
In particular, Pope Francis asked for strength and perseverance for those who are battling the fire.
The pope’s message came via Cardinal Pietro Paralin, the Vatican’s secretary of state, through Archbishop Luigi Bonazzi, the apostolic nuncio to Canada.
The pope’s message comes as the church across Alberta is offering assistance to the evacuees.
In a letter to parishioners in the Edmonton archdiocese, Archbishop Richard Smith said Catholics are “shocked and saddened by the sudden destruction caused by the wildfire.”
The archbishop also invited Catholics to join him in offering “urgent prayers” for all those affected by the wildfire.
The archdioceses of Edmonton and Grouard-McLennan held special collections on the weekends of May 7-8 and 14-15 to assist Catholic parishioners in the two Fort McMurray parishes and the Fort McMurray Ministerial Association.
Smith and Archbishop Gerard Pettipas of Grouard-McLennan encouraged Catholics to also consider making direct donations to relief for fire victims through the Red Cross. Those donations will be matched by the provincial and federal governments.
Bishop David Motiuk of the Edmonton eparchy, which is the diocese for Ukrainian Catholics across Alberta, also encouraged people to donate to the Red Cross.
The Calgary diocese held a collection in parishes May 14-15 to assist the church in Fort McMurray.
Pettipas reminded priests of his archdiocese that people across Alberta and beyond came to the aid of the people of Slave Lake when they were forced to evacuate their town in 2011.
The Edmonton archdiocese has responded to a request for chaplaincy support at Northlands Expo Centre, which is the main gathering point for evacuees in the Alberta capital.
Four Edmonton area parishes — St. Theresa, St. Charles, Corpus Christi and Holy Family in St. Albert — have responded to an Alberta Health Services request to provide accommodations at churches which have large kitchens.
As well, Cardinal Thomas Collins of Toronto, a former bishop of both St. Paul and Edmonton, has asked people in Canada’s largest Catholic diocese to contribute to a fund for relief for the victims of the fire.
The Toronto archdiocese will funnel the donations it receives through the Red Cross.
Meanwhile, 1,000 firefighters continue to battle the blaze.
On May 4 Terrio issued a statement giving thanks that there had been no loss of life as a result of the wildfire. In his statement, Terrio said that with the community still in shock from the damage in Fort McMurray, “Let us give thanks to our Lord and God that, with some 60,000-70,000 people evacuated from the community in a matter of hours, there has been no loss of life.”
Terrio said that as the full extent of loss and damage becomes to be known, the whole community would be called upon to help rebuild and resettle the city.
“This fire disaster is a hard blow at a time when Fort McMurray is already struggling under an adverse economic situation,” wrote Terrio.
He noted the economic slowdown with the worldwide drop in oil prices that has severely affected the local economy in the heart of Canada’s oil country.
“But with our faith, our hope and our love for each other, we shall, as a young local evacuee said on Facebook last night, build a ‘better Fort McMurray,’ ” he said.