In the wee hours of February 6, 2023 a mammoth earthquake hit southern Turkey and northern Syria which wreaked havoc on the people living in these areas and caused extensive damage to large swathes of lands, leveling an innumerable number of buildings, killing thousands of people under the rubble of the collapsed buildings, and sending hundreds of thousands of people in the open with little hope for a bright future.
The damage caused by this horrible and extensive earthquake far exceeds the damage caused by years of conflict and instability in these areas. Beyond the inflicted material damage, psychological damage has been inflicted on those who survived and lost dear ones under the rubble which draws a bleak image of the future. Many heart-wrenching stories are being told about children who lost their parents or people who lost members other families, or rather whole families are still missing. It is rather a horrible situation that marked the start of the new year 2023 at a time when hopes were pinned on efforts expected to be exerted in order to ameliorate the worsening global situation at all levels.
Under such horrible situations, the Catholic Church did not leave any stone unturned in its quest for any possible means that would extend compassion and love to the bereaved people in Turkey and Syria in the hope of extending the divine love of Lord Jesus Christ Who said, "A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” (John 13: 34-35)
The earliest reaction to this mammoth disaster was extended by His Holiness Pope Francis who said that he was deeply saddened to learn of the huge loss of life caused by a powerful earthquake that has struck southeastern Turkey and northwestern Syria. In two separate telegrams signed on his behalf by Vatican Secretary of State, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, the Pope offered words of condolence and asked the apostolic nuncios, Marek Solczynski in Turkey, and Mario Zenari in Syria, to send his assurance of his spiritual closeness to all those affected. Furthermore, he entrusted “those who died to the loving mercy of the Almighty” and expressed a “renewed sign of his spiritual solidarity for the long-suffering Syrian people.”
During his General Audience, on February 8, the Pope Francis issued an appeal for help for all those affected by the devastating earthquakes in Turkey and Syria, as the death toll soars. He said, "With emotion I pray for them, and express my closeness to these peoples, to the families of the victims and to all those who are suffering from this devastating calamity."
On the other hand, Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem His Beatitude Pierbattista Pizzaballa issued a statement on Tuesday, February 7, 2023 addressing the faithful of the diocese of the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem and indicating that the collections of Sunday Holy Masses, namely February 12 and February 19, will be given to the affected populations of the earthquake that has hit Syria and Turkey.
The statement says in part, "Caring for others is a concrete way of loving Christ and living the Christian faith. Driven by charity toward our brothers and sisters, I encourage all communities - parishes, religious institutes, movements, and associations - in the diocesan territory to launch appropriate initiatives of prayer and aid to the affected populations." The statement adds, "Accepting the proposal of our priests, I will also see to it that in all our vicariates and parishes of the diocese, the collection of Sunday Masses of the 6th and 7th Sundays of Ordinary Time be given to the affected populations."
Furthermore, Rev. Francesco Patton, the Jerusalem-based Custos of the Holy Land, said that he would open all of the Church’s buildings in northern Syria to provide shelter for families who have lost their homes. His office, the Custodia Terrae Sanctae, says the properties can shelter hundreds of people and provide food and medical care for thousands.
What further provides a promising start of giving meaningful help to the people whose lives have been wrecked by the earthquake is the announcement made by the Pontifical Mission Societies (PMS) marking the launch of their latest initiative to help the earthquake victims, whereby the PMS has opened the earthquake Aid for Turkey and Syria Fund. The proceeds from this fund will support missionary priests, religious women, and lay missionaries on the ground providing assistance to those impacted by the disaster, defined by Bishop Antoine Audo, SJ, Chaldean Bishop of Aleppo in Syria as a "tremendous bomb".
The Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem also prayed for the souls of the victims, the wounded, and the affected. The prayers read, "We pray for the quick recovery of all those who were injured, asking the Almighty God to comfort them and their loved ones, and to give them strength in these difficult times.”
The Catholic Church has all times shown mercy and extended love to others, whereby one of recent examples is the visit made by His Holiness Pope Francis to the troubled nations of the Democratic Republic of Congo and South Sudan on January 1-February 5, 2023 which fulfilled his dream of installing peace in these two African countries. Secretary General of the Symposium of Episcopal Conferences of Africa and Madagascar (SECAM), Fr. Rafael Simbine Junior, reacted to the visit saying, "Africa is happy and grateful for this 4th apostolic visit of the Holy Father to the continent. In fact, through his visit to these two countries, namely the Democratic Republic of Congo and South Sudan Africa experienced unforgettable days with Pope Francis.”
The merciful deeds conducted by the Catholic Church are concomitant with the words expressed by Lord Jesus Christ during his "Sermon on the Mount when He said, " Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy." With the eruption of violence, famine, and wars among others in the world it is important to resort to mercy which is the key to solving the prevalent global disasters.
It is important to note in this regard to refer to a book issued by His Holiness Pope Francis about ten year ago titled, "The Name of God is Mercy," in which he recounts his views and thoughts on the role of the church, the importance of confession and forgiveness and the place of mercy and love in faith. The Pope also invites all humanity to an intimate and personal dialogue on the subject closest to his heart, namely mercy, which has long been the cornerstone of his faith and is now the central teaching of his papacy.
May the mercy of the Lord prevail in the world with peace entrenched in all parts of the world.