Pope Francis expressed his closeness to the Australian people and called all to pray for the country in the midst of battling blazing wildfires.

At Pope Francis’ Wednesday morning general audience at the Paul VI Hall, a group of Australian pilgrims were present. He specifically greeted them, blessing the whole audience and “especially the groups from Australia.”

At the end of the address, Pope Francis addressed the pilgrims present from the nation ablaze, saying “I am close to the people of Australia.”

He also invited everyone to pray for the people of Australia that God may help them as they battle the fires which have consumed more than 25 million acres and taken the lives of more than 20 people in the recent weeks.

“I wish to ask everyone to pray to the Lord to help the people of Australia in this difficult moment, with these major fires.”

Earlier this week, President of the Australian Bishops Conference Archbishop Mark Coleridge of the Diocese of Brisbane, also spoke on the “unprecedented” crisis facing the country.

“A genuine Catholic response to a crisis of this magnitude must draw strength from prayer which inspires concrete and compassionate action.”

Coleridge said the Church in Australia is prepping their response to the fires, including a special collection, assistance to those affected by the fires, collaborating with aid agences, amongst other efforts.

“With broad and deep roots across the nation, the Church stands ready to walk alongside people throughout their journey of recovery. From the Bishops Conference, that national response includes:

• The facilitation of a national network connecting people affected by the bushfires with people who can help with tasks such as preparing meals, clearing properties, rebuilding communities, as well as pastoral and counselling support.
• The distribution of special prayers and other resources for use in parishes, families and other Catholic communities.
• Collaboration with key national agencies like Catholic Health Australia, Catholic
Social Services Australia, the National Catholic Education Commission and the St
Vincent de Paul Society (Vinnies) to ensure as effective a response as possible from the wider Catholic community.
• Cooperating with Catholic Religious Australia and religious institutes and their
• Parishes across the country taking up a special collection at Masses on the
Australia Day weekend, with all funds to be donated to Vinnies’ bushfire appeal.”

Read the full address from Pope Francis here, and the full statement from Archbishop Coleridge here.

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