.- After a fierce earthquake in Christchurch, New Zealand this week claimed the lives of 113 people, local Bishop Barry Jones announced on Feb. 25 that all schools and parishes in the area will remain closed until inspected by safety officials.
The Feb. 22 earthquake – which has been described as the country's worst natural disaster in history – killed 113 people, with a further 200 still reported missing. It struck at 12:51p.m. local time on Tuesday and registered as a 6.3 magnitude quake on the Richter scale.
Bishop Jones said that local Catholic schools and churches, many of which were significantly damaged, will remain off limits until engineers have ruled them safe for use.
The Sydney Archdiocese reported that Christchurch's Cathedral of the Blessed Sacrament was severely damaged in the earthquake. The building lost its two towers and has severe cracks throughout its edifice. The cathedral had been closed for repairs since an earthquake in the area last September. The public have not been allowed inside within the last several months during the church's reconstruction.
Rescuers hoped that signs of life had been detected in the destroyed Holy Cross Catholic chapel in central Christchurch, but could not locate anyone as of Feb. 24. According to NZ Catholic paper, however, chapel administrator Fr. Raymond Schmack assured Bishop Jones that he was the last person to leave the chapel the day of the earthquake.
In Feb. 23 comments at the end of his general audience, Pope Benedict XVI asked Catholics to join him in prayer for the victims.
“At this time, my thoughts turn especially to the people there who are being severely tested by this tragedy,” he said.
He prayed that God relieve the survivors’ suffering and that he support all those involved in rescue work, Vatican Radio reports.
Archbishop Charles Daniel Balvo, the apostolic nuncio to New Zealand, said the earthquake in Christchurch is “far worse” than the one that hit the same area in September.
Earthquake victims are still trapped and the collapsed buildings are “so unstable that it is difficult for rescuers to find them,” he said.
“The city is still 80 percent without water and electricity and relief camps have been set up for the people,” he continued.
The archbishop told Vatican Radio that New Zealanders are grateful for the Pope’s message of solidarity and prayers.
“The New Zealanders are very resilient and very well organized,” he added. “They will do a great deal to help themselves.”