Pope Francis has called for international solidarity to alleviate suffering in Haiti following a major earthquake that killed at least 304 people.
“In recent hours a strong earthquake has occurred in Haiti, causing numerous deaths, injuries and extensive material damage. I wish to express my closeness to those dear people who have been hard hit by the earthquake,” Pope Francis said Aug. 15.
“As I raise my prayers to the Lord for the victims, I address a word of encouragement to the survivors, desiring that the international community will take a shared interest in them. May the solidarity of all alleviate the consequences of the tragedy.”
The pope prayed for the people of Haiti from the window overlooking St. Peter’s Square at the end of his Sunday Angelus prayer. He asked the crowd gathered below to offer a Hail Mary together to Our Lady of Haiti.
The 7.2 magnitude earthquake struck Haiti about 90 miles west of the capital Port-au-Prince on the morning of Aug. 14. It was stronger than the 2010 earthquake from which the island is still recovering.
More than 1,800 people were injured by the earthquake and even more remain unaccounted for, according to Haiti’s civil authorities.
Hundreds of homes and seven churches were also destroyed. Among the victims was a Catholic priest, according to ACI Prensa, CNA’s Spanish language news agency.
Immediately following the earthquake, Akim Kikonda, the director of Catholic Relief Services in Haiti told ACI Prensa that a Catholic rectory in Les Cayes was severely damaged causing three fatalities, one priest and two employees.
Cardinal Chibly Langlois, the bishop of Les Cayes, was also injured by the earthquake, but his injuries are not life-threatening, according to Catholic Relief Services (CRS). Langlois, 62, became the first Haitian to become Catholic cardinal in 2014.
Kikonda said that the local public hospital has been overwhelmed by the number of emergencies, and is turning away most of the injured.
“All of CRS personnel are safe and sound, but unfortunately one of our employees’ wife died and his baby is gravely injured,” he said.
“We are currently evaluating the extent of the damage. … Once we have a full evaluation of the injured, dead and affected, we will proceed to provide emergency services, especially to the poorest and most vulnerable people.”
The president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops also expressed sorrow and prayers after the news of the earthquake.
“We stand in solidarity with the Church in Haiti in offering our prayers, in a particular way this weekend as we celebrate the Solemnity of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin,” Archbishop Jose Gomez of Los Angeles said Aug. 14.
Catholics, or anyone of good will, who wishes to assist with Haitian relief efforts following the latest earthquake, should contact Catholic Relief Services, Gomez said.
“In these moments of continued trial, may you feel the comfort, compassion, and embrace of our Blessed Mother,” he said. “Our Lady of Perpetual Help, patroness of Haiti, intercede for us.”