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New Zealand: serious damage to historic cathedral

Catholic World News - February 23, 2011

The Cathedral of the Blessed Sacrament in Christchurch, which was dedicated in 1905, suffered extensive damage in the New Zealand earthquake that has claimed at least 75 lives.

“The engineers have indicated it is unlikely the historic cathedral can be saved,” according to a notice posted on the diocesan web site. “Two bell towers at the front of the building have collapsed, bringing much of the front façade down with it, with large blocks of masonry destroying vehicles in front of the building.”

“I am stunned and deeply saddened by the loss of so many lives, the serious injuries to so many and the destruction of property that that has been visited upon us so violently and suddenly,” said Bishop Barry Jones. “I pray for those who have been killed and injured, and also for those closest to them who never imagined when they last saw them that anything like this would happen. There had been a sense of hope and confidence gradually growing as we came to terms with the consequences of the big earthquake last year, and this horrific disaster is a cruel blow to that hope. I am greatly moved by the courage, dedication and skill of all those who are involved in rescuing and helping victims of this tragedy, and I know that they will be supported by the heartfelt prayers of many, many people for their safety and protection.”

The Vatican Secretariat of State sent a condolence message to Bishop Jones on behalf of Pope Benedict. “He wishes to express his spiritual closeness to everyone who has been affected, and sends his condolences to the families of all who mourn the loss of loved ones. Commending the deceased to the merciful love of God, his Holiness assures the people of the city and the nation of his prayers for all those who are working urgently to rescue and assist the trapped and the injured, as well as for those laboring to restore essential services.”

At his regular public audience on February 23, the Holy Father offered prayers for the people "severely tested by this tragedy" and for everyone involved in rescue operations.

Archbishop Charles Daniel Balvo, the apostolic nuncio in New Zealand, reported that the 80% of the people in Christchurch remained without water. Relief camps were being set up, he said, to provide basic services for those affected.

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