International News

Pope Prays for Guatemalan Volcano Victims

By Junno Arocho Esteves

An aerial view of Escuintla, Guatemala, is seen June 4. The town on the edge of the Volcano of Fire was inundated by ash and lava by a June 3 eruption. (Photo: Catholic News Service/MINGOB, PNC via Reuters)

VATICAN CITY (CNS) – Pope Francis sent condolences to Guatemala after a horrific volcanic eruption left more than 60 people dead.

In a June 5 telegram addressed to Archbishop Nicolas Thevenin, apostolic nuncio of Guatemala, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, Vatican secretary of state, said the pope was “profoundly grieved upon learning the sad news of the violent eruption of the ‘Volcan de Fuego’ (‘Volcano of Fire’).”

The June 3 eruption buried entire towns in a thick blanket of ash and debris, causing hundreds to flee the toxic fumes. Although the death toll was at 69 people on June 5, authorities believed many more may still be buried under the volcanic rubble.

According to the Vatican newspaper, “L’Osservatore Romano,” Guatemala’s National Institute of Forensic Studies said only 17 victims had been identified as of June 5. Scientists will have to rely on DNA to identify victims disfigured by burning embers and hot lava.

Firefighters and volunteers were forced to use wooden planks to walk around after the soles of their shoes were melting because of the intense heat, CNN reported June 5.

Pope Francis offered “prayers for the eternal rest of the deceased and for all who suffer the consequences of that natural disaster.”

Cardinal Parolin said Pope Francis hoped that families mourning the loss of loved ones may be consoled and expressed “spiritual closeness to the wounded” and those helping victims.

The pope said he had “a good impression” of the presynod meeting and the meeting’s final document was “beautiful.” He also praised the commitment of the young delegates and their seriousness in addressing the challenges facing young people today.

Drug use, he said, is one of the main problems facing young men and women today. However, youths also can be “easy prey” to a different kind of drug: cultural alienation.

Young people today receive proposals that are alienating them “from values, from insertion into society, alienating them from reality: they propose a life of fantasy,” the pope said.

A child sleeps in a shelter in Escuintla, Guatemala, June 5. The nearby Volcano of Fire erupted June 3, killing at least 65 people. (Photo: Catholic News Service/courtesy Luis Rolando Sanchez, CRS)

“It worries me that they communicate and live in a virtual world. They live like this, communicate like this and do not have their feet on the ground,” he said. “We must make young people ‘grounded’ in the real world; to touch reality without destroying the good things the virtual world may have because they are useful. This is important: reality, concreteness.”

An important way to help young people engage with the reality around them is to encourage them to get involved in charity work and in the corporal works of mercy, he said. “Do something for others, because this helps them be concrete, it grounds them, and they enter into a social relationship.”

Since many parents today “are from a generation whose roots are not very strong,” the pope said young people lost in the virtual world should engage in dialogue with their grandparents and the elderly.

Citing an unnamed poet, Pope Francis said, “‘All that the tree has flowered comes from what it has in the ground below.’ Go to the roots!”

“In my opinion, this is one the most difficult problems facing youths today: they are uprooted. They must find their roots without turning back. They must find them to go forward,” the pope said.