Pope Francis telegrams Greece and Italy to express concerns about wildfires and storms

fire Greece A forest fire rages on the Greek island of Corfu on July 24, 2023. | Shutterstock

Pope Francis issued calls for a renewed focus on environmental stewardship in two papal telegrams sent to Greece and Italy, released by the Vatican Friday, as the countries’ citizens contend with damaging wildfires and storms.

Recent wildfires have devastated large parts of Greece and left several people dead, while the storms in Italy damaged buildings and resulted in several deaths amid record-high temperatures.

Writing on behalf of Pope Francis, Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin wrote to Bishop Petros Stefànou, president of the Greek Catholic bishops’ conference, sharing the pope’s concerns and solidarity.

“His Holiness Pope Francis is deeply concerned by the threat to life and damage caused by the widespread wildfires in various parts of Greece, and beyond, as a result of the current heat wave afflicting a number of European countries,” the telegram read. 

The Greek fires, which began earlier this month, have forced the evacuation of tens of thousands of residents and tourists from the islands of Corfu and Rhodes and have wreaked havoc on parts of mainland Greece as well. At times the smoke from the burning has been so intense that it has been visible from space. Authorities have reported at least five deaths associated with the fires and several dozen injured.

“His Holiness assures all those affected of his spiritual closeness and prays in a particular way that almighty God will bless the efforts of the firefighters and other emergency personnel to combat this hazardous situation,” the telegram said.

“It is likewise his hope that the risks to our common home, exacerbated by the present climate crisis, will spur all people to renew their efforts to care for the gift of creation, for the sake of future generations,” the message added.

Storms in Italy, meanwhile, last week slammed the northern part of the country, killing at least two and leaving damaged buildings and hundreds of downed trees in their wake.

In the second telegram, sent to Italian Episcopal Conference president Cardinal Matteo Maria Zuppi, Pope Francis asked the prelate “to be the interpreter of his affectionate proximity to the populations affected by [these] atmospheric events, which highlight the need to make courageous and far-sighted efforts to face the challenge of climate change and to protect creation responsibly, taking care of the common home.”

“His Holiness calls upon the Lord, by the intercession of the Virgin Mary, for the comfort of those who are suffering the consequences of such serious disasters,” the telegram said, “and, as he expresses his appreciation for those who have generously worked in the rescue efforts, especially the firefighters, he sends his apostolic blessing.”

Experts have argued that climate change can exacerbate wildfires and storms by driving up global temperatures and creating more favorable conditions for the spread of conflagrations and the development of supercells.

Greek Minister of Climate Crisis and Civil Protection Vassilis Kikilias said last week that, of the hundreds of fires that have raged over the country in recent weeks, “the majority were ignited by human hand, either by criminal negligence or intent.”

Kikilias suggested that climatic factors were helping drive the fires beyond how they normally burn. “The difference with other years were the weather conditions,” he said.

Italian Civil Protection Minister Nello Musumeci, meanwhile, told Italian news channel Sky TG24 that the storms will be remembered as “one of the most difficult days that Italy has experienced in recent years from a climatic and civil protection point of view.”

The Holy Father since his papacy began has been a vocal proponent of environmental stewardship. 

His 2015 encyclical Laudato Si’ described climate change as “one of the principal challenges facing humanity in our day” and called for fossil-fuel-burning technology to be “progressively replaced without delay” with greener energy production.

In 2021 the Holy Father launched a seven-year action plan in accordance with that encyclical, calling for “a new ecological approach that can transform our way of dwelling in the world, our styles of life, our relationship with the resources of the earth, and, in general, our way of looking at humanity and of living life.”

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