St Patrick's Cathedral was packed yesterday for a Mass for Victoria's bushfire victims while messages of solidarity and prayer from church leaders from around Australia and the world have poured in.
"We will support those who have lost everything and help them to rebuild their lives and their homes. We will demonstrate that each has within the capacity to make our own unique contribution as we suffer with those who are carrying an unimaginable burden," Archbishop Denis Hart told the congregation.
Hobbling painfully down the steps before the special service, Sisters of the Good Samaritan Helen, 80, and Zita, 74, said they were moved by tears and by prayer, The Age reports.
The entire grade 6 from St Aloysius, Caulfield, trekked in. Elliott Bradley, 11, told The Age: "We just want to do something for them (the victims)."
After the service, Archbishop Hart said: "What will come of this is the sense that we do need each other, and how much we can do when we work together."
Other Australian dioceses have also expressed their solidarity with victims.
"On behalf of the Catholic community of Sydney I extend my deepest condolences to all who have lost family members, friends and loved ones in these devastating fires," Sydney Cardinal George Pell said in a statement on Monday, Zenit reports.
"You are very much in our prayers and thoughts at this time and we stand ready to help in whatever way we can."
"Our prayers for the victims and for all those effected by the fires will continue and will be a special focus in parishes and schools at Masses this week and next Sunday," he said.
He also announced the Archdiocese of Sydney would donate $50,000 to a special appeal initiated by Archbishop Denis Hart of Melbourne to support the victims of the bushfires and to help in the reconstruction effort.
The parish priest of flood devastated Ingham in North Queensland has been overwhelmed with offers of support from around the state and country. but he says the town feels the focus should be on the unfolding tragedy of the Victorian bushfires, The Catholic Leader reports.
Fr Michael Taylor, in a message to those who had offered help, said that although "our region was devastated by its worst flood in over thirty years ... we all survived ... we will rebuild ... our lives will return to normal."
Meanwhile, Brisbane's Archbishop John Bathersby last Monday launched the Catholic Emergency Relief Appeal to assist people affected by the Victorian fires.
Among international expressions of solidarity, Ireland's Cardinal Sean Brady wrote of the sympathy of the Irish people.
Malta's Gozo Bishop Mario Grech has expressed solidarity with Australia over the tragic loss following raging bushfires in Victoria.
Million prayer appeal
Meanwhile, Catholic Mission Australia has launched a worldwide prayer vigil through its international partners for the victims of the fires.
The Catholic Mission has been inundated with emails, phone calls and letters from many of the 160 partner countries through Asia, Aftica, Europe, the Pacific and the Americas with expressions of prayer and solidarity, national director, Martin Teulan said.
"World Youth Day in Australia showed us the vastness of the Catholic Church and the richness of faith around the world. We are an international community of Catholics who help each in time of need and who will now want to help Australians rebuild their homes and their hearts through solidarity in prayer.
"We are sure that a Million prayers will lift the spirit of the victims," Mr Teulan said.
Relief efforts continue
Catholic Social Services Victoria director Denis Fitzgerald wrote that "most Victorians seem to know someone who has been affected by the fires."
"Even for those without any direct connection, the saturation media coverage, and the familiarity of the place names and locations, makes the whole community feel part of the devastation," he said.
Mr Fitzgerald said the organised community response to the suffering and loss flowing from the fires has been fine tuned over the past few days, as the situation has become clearer, and more of the worst affected areas are opened up for front line assistance.
"Assistance patterns differ from area to area, depending largely on the severity of the damage. In some municipalities, recovery plans are established, and the St Vincent de Paul Society in particular is able to move into top gear. In some other areas, this stage has not yet been reached.
"While seeking to assist wherever practicable, all are concerned not to overload the people we all want to help, and to ensure that systems are put in place to ensure that the community is supported over the extended time that will be needed to re-build the buildings and communities.
"The Church community and its agencies have been part of this general response," he said.
Call for pastoral support
Spiritual and pastoral support remains the first priority for parishes in the affected areas, Mr Fitzgerald said.
Fr Joe Caddy is coordinating assistance to clergy in the worst affected areas of the Melbourne Archdiocese - firstname.lastname@example.org
Within the Catholic Church, the St Vincent de Paul Society is working with local government and the main coordinating authorities to move into the recovery centres and start the job of re-building lives.
Centacare agencies in the Victorian dioceses are gearing up to supply the counselling, and support for many that will be needed once the initial crisis phase is passed.
Cathedral packed for memorial Mass (The Age)
Cardinal Pell supports bushfire victims (Zenit)
Catholic Mission calls for a Million Prayers for Fire Victims ((Catholic Mission, Media Release)
Catholic Social Services Victoria Bushfire Efforts (Media Release)
Solidarity with Maltese community in Australia (Di-Ve)
Financial support may be given thru www.vinnies.org.au; by phone: 13 18 12; or at any Vinnies store.
Goods - large clothing and personal items are still needed, at the Victorian Disaster Appeal warehouse, Henderson Rd. Rowville.
Housing assistance - email@example.com, tel (03) 9895 5800
Melbourne Archdiocesan Appeal