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Pope urges prayer for earthquake victims

A Japan civil defence officer holds a four-month-old girl who was rescued along with her family from their home in Ishimaki, northern Japan (CNS photo/Yomiuri Shimbun/Reuters)

Pope Benedict XVI has asked people to join him in praying for the victims of last week’s earthquake and tsunami in Japan, saying that he, too, was horrified by the images of death and destruction.

He said yesterday after reciting the Angelus prayer in St Peter’s Square: “May the bereaved and injured be comforted and may the rescue workers be strengthened in their efforts to assist the courageous Japanese people.”

Government officials estimate that perhaps 10,000 people lost their lives after the earthquake on Friday 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.”

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 practise 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.”

Two reactors at the Fukushima plant were hit by explosions and another was losing its cooling system. Japanese officials were playing down the health risks posed by the emergency at the plant, but they did order evacuations for hundreds of thousands of people.

In a message to members of the Orthodox Church, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople said the Japanese tragedy demonstrates the threat posed by nuclear power plants and 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, Fr Daisuke Narui, told Fides.