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Pope offers support as Catholic agencies assist Chilean fire victims
Catholic News Service

SAO PAULO — With fire still raging in parts of the historic city of Valparaiso, Chile, Caritas Chile and the Diocese of Valparaiso opened a bank account to help more than 10,000 people forced from their homes.

The blaze on hillsides overlooking the popular vacation city started April 12 and continued to vex firefighters and emergency workers four days later.

Fire officials estimated April 15 that it could take up to 20 days to extinguish the blaze. Interior Minister Rodrigo Penailillo said later in the day that 15 people had died and that more than 2,900 homes had been destroyed.

Cardinal Ricardo Ezzati Andrello of Santiago appealed to Catholics to help families displaced by the fire in any way they could.
"This Easter we find ourselves in much pain. ... we are deeply touched to see the disaster left by the fire, which affected many families and led to several deaths in Valparaiso," he said.

Meanwhile, Pope Francis expressed spiritual closeness to the residents of Valparaiso and offered prayers of support in an April 14 telegram from Cardinal Pietro Parolin, Vatican secretary of state, to Bishop Gonzalo Duarte Garcia de Cortazar of Valparaiso.

Cardinal Parolin said the pope shared in the sorrow of those who have lost their homes and belongings in the blaze.

The pope's message included words of support to emergency responders and urged residents not to lose heart in facing their adversity. The pope also offered condolences to family members of the deceased.

Caritas Chile reported on its website that hundreds of volunteers have stepped in to help those left homeless by the disaster, providing "smiles and affection."

Although Valparaiso is often blanketed by fog from the Pacific Ocean, wildfires have plagued the city throughout its history thanks to its geography, which allows winds to flow down the hillsides.

Orion Aramayo, an urban planning expert at Valparaiso's Catholic University, told the Associated Press that indigenous Changos who lived there before the Spanish conquest called the area "Alimapu," which means "land destroyed by fire."

Chilean President Michelle Bachelet pledged to rebuild the city under a master plan that would prevent people from residing on the hillsides. The communities destroyed by the fire included middle class and poor families.

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