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Catholic bishops and priests take to the street to help earthquake victims

Daniel Cardenas | Anadolu | AFP
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Maintaining a strong spirit is vital to overcoming tragedy, said Church leader

Mexicans are displaying a “very strong spirit” in striving to overcome the effects of two very strong earthquakes that have claimed at last count about 370 lives, said a Church leader in Mexico City.

“We are seeing a very strong spirit in the Mexican people. All over the country there are many people helping, collecting food, water, medicine, and materials and sending it to the damaged places,” said the secretary-general of the Mexican Episcopal Conference, Bishop Alfonso G. Miranda Guardiola, in an interview Thursday.

The death toll in the devastating earthquake that struck Mexico City and surrounding areas Tuesday rose to at least 273, including 137 in the capital. President Enrique Pena Nieto said he believed people could still be trapped alive in a number of buildings.

The 7.1-magnitude earthquake occurred just 12 days after the Sept. 7 8.1-magnitude quake that was centered off the southern coast of the country and took almost 100 lives and left thousands homeless.

Bishop Miranda spoke with Aleteia in the midst of coordinating with Caritas Mexico and directing both the offers of assistance that were coming in and the supplies and manpower that needed to go to the affected areas. Mexico City, built on soft ground that was once a lake bed, especially felt the quake, which hit on Tuesday during the lunch hour, sending thousands of panicked office workers and residents into the streets.

For the third night in a row Thursday, rescue workers, assisted by lay volunteers, continued to clear away rubble from the 50 or so collapsed buildings across the city. That included the Enrique Rebsamen School, where the bodies of at least 19 children and six adults had already been recovered, in addition to the rescue of about a dozen people.

Bishop Miranda said that many young people, professionals, doctors, and engineers were flying to the capital and other places to offer their skills. He was also in touch with bishops of several dioceses that had been affected in states surrounding Mexico City, including Puebla, Morelos, Tlaxcala and Mexico State. And he was in communication with leaders of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops and several individual U.S. bishops, including two who were born in Mexico: Archbishop Jose Gomez of Los Angeles and Archbishop Gustavo Garcia-Siller of San Antonio.

Bishop Miranda said that on Tuesday night, people from the Mexican bishops’ conference “went right away to see the damaged buildings.”

“Our bishops are in the streets, visiting the damaged churches. Our students are trying to help rescue people,” he said. “A lot of our job in different dioceses is sending priests to give consolation to people who have lost relatives. Many others are trying to save their own churches and help their own people.”

The secretary-general said that the 20th-century Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe was serving as a donation and collection point for food and other items to be distributed to the needy. He said that the old basilica nearby, which dates to the late 17th century, may have suffered minor damage and that the cathedral of the Archdiocese of Mexico City, near the city’s central square, the Zocalo, did suffer minor damage. Both were being checked out.

Perhaps the most dramatic incident amid many tragedies was the collapse of a dome at an old church in the state of Puebla, where a family was gathering for a child’s baptism. The child was killed, along with 10 other family members and three other persons. Only the godfather survived.

At the same time, the bishops’ conference and Caritas were continuing their response to the Sept. 7 temblor, which caused extensive damage in Chiapas and Oaxaca states and damaged at least 300 churches.

The Mexican spirit is important in overcoming the tragedies, Bishop Miranda said. “We must have it because we must rebuild our country. We must accept that many places were devastated and we have to be together … to rebuild,” he said. “We see people in the streets helping each other, helping the injured, trying to save one person, one child. We are seeing businessmen, artistic men, university students, doctors, engineers, priests, all the people, with this strong spirit trying to show that Mexico is stepping up.”

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