Towns and villages are completely cut off from the water. Entire regions were flooded. Families and victims evacuated. SIR contacted the parishes hardest hit by floods in New South Wales, Australia, after Pope Francis spoke about the idea of closeness and solidarity with the general public. In Parramatta, the diocese has opened schools and churches for refugees. This is not the first time that Australia has faced an environmental disaster: Last year the country has suffered from droughts and bushfires. Parramatta, Franciscan Bishop, Vincent Long, has made an appeal: “The environmental crisis demands a change of heart and a change in lifestyle. We must have the courage to conform to God’s plan for the world. Only by working in the interest of the environment, the poor and future generations can we save this planet from destruction.”
Exciting news arrived this morning in SIR from the parishes of New South Wales, the Australian region struck by a flood, and local authorities have not hesitated to identify it as the most dangerous in at least 50 years. About 18,000 people were evacuated from their homes and heavy rains caused rivers and dams to overflow in the area. The Archdiocese of Armidale conducts a damage assessment. The municipality of Morey in northwest NSW is isolated: all roads in the city are impassable, and this morning the city splits itself in two by a bridge. Towns and villages are completely isolated. It remains impossible to determine how many families have been inundated by the floods. The pastor who attended a meeting of clergy in Armidale last Tuesday was unable to return to his flock. Tamworth has been hit by severe flooding that has cut off many roads, but the situation here is improving. Many local roads around Tamworth have been closed and families remain isolated on their farms. But there are also stories of solidarity: although some Centacare New England North West employees were evicted from their homes Tuesday evening, they still came to work on Wednesdays and Thursdays to take care of them. Affected by the floods. On Wednesday, at the conclusion of the public meeting, Pope Francis expressed his solidarity: “I am close to the people and families who continue to be affected by this disaster, especially those who have seen their homes destroyed, and I encourage those who do their best to search for the missing and for relief.” Through the spokesperson for the Australian Bishops Conference, SIR was able to reach the Mgr. Vincent Long Van Nguyen, Parramatta Bishop.
How did the words of Pope Francis from Rome echo?
We welcome the words, prayers, and support of the Holy Father with gratitude. His message of solidarity is deeply felt by those affected by this latest disaster in New South Wales and across the nation.
How is the situation now?
Thank God, the situation is calming down now. The rain stopped and the water slowly began to recede. Of course, the rain damage needs to be cleaned up and the restoration work begins now. People have to go on with their lives.
How many people were evacuated? Were there injuries?
The rain covered a large area, damaged many properties and evacuated many families. We have also heard about some of the victims. We gather together in prayer for them and their families. We also know about a parish priest who miraculously saved himself from the water after being stranded during a pastoral visit to a sick parish!
What are the churches and related organizations doing for the evacuees?
We provide support through our social services. We have also provided classrooms in schools and parishes that can be used as emergency evacuation shelters, and what is important to us now is to support the long-term reconstruction that requires close cooperation with community leaders and local groups. We also develop programs based on a psychosocial recovery model, specific to emergency and local situations.
A year ago, Australia faced the tragedy of bushfires. Today another calamity: floods. Fire and water. What is the message for humanity that comes from this wounded planet?
It was a disastrous time for Australia. First the drought, then the wildfires and now the floods. There is no doubt that these extreme weather events have been exacerbated by human activities such as deforestation and the burning of fossil fuels that have a greater impact on the environment. Australia cannot claim to be a responsible country in the ethical challenge of our time while still lagging behind other nations in climate action and continuing to support old polluting industries.
How to behave?
Courageous, enlightened and decisive leadership is needed, capable of encouraging residents to adopt the ways of thinking and lifestyles that are essential to saving our planet from total devastation. We ask policymakers to be aware that we only have one home to live in and that we need to look after and protect it. We are asked to transcend old patterns of life and behavior, individually and collectively. The environmental crisis requires conversion of heart and a change in lifestyle. We must have the courage to conform to God’s plan for the world. Only by working for the environment, the poor and future generations can we save this planet from destruction.