Pope prays for victims in Japan

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VATICAN CITY - Saying he, too, was horrified by the images of the death and destruction caused by the earthquake and tsunami in Japan, Pope Benedict XVI asked people to join him in praying for the victims.

"May the bereaved and injured be comforted and may the rescue workers be strengthened in their efforts to assist the courageous Japanese people," the pope said in English March 13 after reciting the Angelus prayer with visitors in St. Peter's Square.

Government officials estimated that perhaps 10,000 people lost their lives after the earthquake March 11 and the tsunami it triggered.

Speaking in Italian after the Angelus, the pope said, "The images of the tragic earthquake and the consequent tsunami in Japan have left us deeply horrified.

"I want to renew my spiritual closeness to that country's dear people, who with dignity and courage are dealing with the consequences of the calamity. I pray for the victims and their families and for all who are suffering because of these terrible events. I encourage all those who, with laudable speed, are working to bring help. Let us remain united in prayer."

The Pontifical Council Cor Unum, the Vatican's charity promotion and coordinating office, announced March 14 that the pope donated $100,000 to the relief efforts of the Japanese bishops' conference.

"Obviously, material, concrete aid is necessary" to help the thousands who are suffering, Msgr. Anthony Figueiredo, a Cor Unum official, told Vatican Radio. "Also, the bishops are the first responsible for charity in the diocese and they know the needs of the people."

"The church wants to be there not only in the short term but especially in the long term," after "many of the secular agencies have gone and there's no one to help," he said.

Bishop Marcellino Daiji Tani of Saitama, one of the dioceses hit hardest by the disaster, told the Catholic missionary news agency Fides that the catastrophe is a reminder that "life is in the hands of God and that life is a gift from God," and he described the tragedy as a challenge for Christians during Lent "to practice and witness to the commandment of love and brotherly love."

However, he also told Fides, "Of particular concern to us is the situation of the nuclear power plant in Fukushima. But we must take courage, with the help of the Holy Spirit."

Reactors at the Fukushima plant were hit by explosions and Japanese officials were working to avoid leakage of radiation. They ordered evacuations for hundreds of thousands of people.

Bishop Martin Tetsuo Hiraga of Sendai, the diocese most affected by the quake and tsunami, said many area residents, cut off without electricity and with some phone service just restored, were unaware of the worsening situation at the Fukushima plant.

"You living in other countries have a much better idea of the tragedy," the bishop told Vatican Radio March 15.

"We are terrified," the bishop said. "We only have the government announcements, we have no other source of information. We don't even know what has happened to our parishes in the towns and villages along the coast. We have no way of contacting them. I can only hope that the people of my diocese can stand together and be strong enough to overcome this disaster."

In a message March 13 to members of the Orthodox Church, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople said the Japanese tragedy demonstrates the threat posed by nuclear power plants and it calls for serious reflection.

"With all due respect to the science and technology of nuclear energy and for the sake of the survival of the human race, we counter-propose the safer green forms of energy," the patriarch said.

The Orthodox patriarch, who is a leading proponent of a Christian environmental theology, said in his message, "Our Creator granted us the gifts of the sun, wind, water and ocean, all of which may safely and sufficiently provide energy. Therefore we ask: Why do we persist in adopting such dangerous sources of energy?"

Meanwhile, the director of Caritas Japan told Fides, "This painful event may be an opportunity to spread the values of the Gospel, that is, the fraternity of all men and women, the building of common good, the recognition that every person has the dignity of a child of God and is important in the eyes of God.

"If with our work and our witness, we can communicate that then from this evil will come good," the Caritas official, Father Daisuke Narui, told Fides.

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2011