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Pope Urges Aid as Myanmar Fears the Worst

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VATICAN CITY, MAY 7, 2008 (Zenit.org) — Pope Benedict XVI again expressed his closeness to the stricken people of Myanmar, as some 100,000 are feared dead after Saturday's cyclone.

At the end of today's general audience, the Pope reiterated his sympathy for the people affected by Cyclone Nargis, which devastated the Southeast Asian nation nestled between India, China and Thailand. More than 23,000 people are confirmed dead and 42,000 missing. Many expect the death toll could reach 100,000.

The Holy Father said he makes his own "the cry of pain and the call for assistance of the dear people of Myanmar, who without warning saw so many lives, and so much property and means of sustenance destroyed by the terrifying violence of the Cyclone Nargis."

"As I already said in the message of solidarity I sent to the president of the episcopal conference, I remain spiritually close to the people affected," the Pontiff continued. "I would also like to repeat to everyone my call to open their hearts to pity and generosity so that, thanks to the collaboration of people who can and wish to bring help, the suffering caused by such an immense tragedy may be relieved."

International aid is ready to be delivered, but the relief effort has been slow, in part because Myanmar's ruling military junta has been slow to grant visas to foreign aid-workers.

The president of Caritas Internationalis sent a message of solidarity Tuesday.

Cardinal Oscar Rodríguez Maradiaga said, "People in Myanmar are facing a terrible humanitarian crisis. The message of our global network to them is that they are not alone. Messages of support have flooded into our offices from around the world. "The Burmese should know that we are doing everything we can to ensure international aid efforts get through. So far we are receiving very positive messages from the Myanmar government on their need for international help. We hope this will allow nongovernmental organizations such as ourselves access into the affected areas.

"Caritas members have expertise in the region in responding to similar humanitarian crises. We know from past emergencies such as the Asia tsunami and Cyclone Sidr that getting fresh water, medical supplies, food and shelter into a disaster zone quickly can prevent a second wave of deaths from disease and exposure. Caritas is ready to use that experience to help survivors in Myanmar as quickly as possible."

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