New disaster relief initiative unveiled in Australia

Canberra, Australia, Feb 1, 2020 / 02:12 pm (CNA).- Catholic leaders in Australia have announced the creation of a new disaster response initiative to aid those affected by devastating bushfires in the country, as well as future natural disasters.

“Our response to the bushfires, and the drought that has exacerbated the fires, has demonstrated once again the collective power of the Catholic Church to respond to disasters in all sorts of ways,” said Archbishop Mark Coleridge of Brisbane, president of the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference, in a Jan. 28 statement.

The Catholic Bishops’ Conference, along with Catholic Religious Australia, Catholic Social Services Australia and the National Catholic Education Commission, unveiled a new national initiative called CERA – Catholic Emergency Relief Australia – to coordinate Catholic organizations’ relief efforts following natural disasters.

The initiative comes from nationwide efforts to support those affected by the more than 80 bushfires that continue to burn in Australia, in the worst wildfire season in the country’s recorded history. Hot, windy conditions have thwarted firefighters’ efforts to extinguish the blazes. More than 33 people have been killed and more than 24 million acres destroyed in the fires since September, according to the BBC.

Coleridge said the Church’s response to the fires has led a blueprint for more efficient response to future natural disasters.

CERA will coordinate relief efforts and distribute donation-based recovery grants through a process overseen by Catholic Social Services Australia. The St Vincent de Paul Bushfire Appeal will also continue its national efforts to collect donations for fire relief.

The CERA website also offers a portal for volunteer management – matching people who want to contribute time, money, or material goods with areas of need.

“Our parishes, agencies and ministries are constantly receiving requests from individuals and families who need a place to stay, who need new clothes or appliances, who need a listening ear,” Archbishop Coleridge said.

“Much of that support will come from government, from Catholic and other charitable organisations, but volunteers can carry out some of the urgent tasks to help people in their daily lives.”

The archbishop encouraged Catholics to continue to pray that Australia may see relief from the devastating fires, and to donate their times and resources as they are able.

“This is ultimately about us being more responsive in a crisis,” said Dr. Ursula Stephens, CEO of Catholic Social Services Australia. “This is faith in action and a call to follow our Christian vocation.”

She explained that the initiative will help coordinate efforts from organizations that are already part of local communities.

“One of the Church’s key social teachings is about ‘subsidiarity’, which means that we empower local communities to respond to their realities as they best see fit,” she said.

“Alongside that, though, sits ‘solidarity’, which compels us to see the needs of others and work collaboratively to respond to those needs. That response can be most effective when it’s coordinated and focused.”

“We are establishing the appropriate governance, accountability and transparency measures to ensure that those who see the Church as a key responder to national emergencies know financial and practical support is going to those who need it,” she added.

In addition to offering much-needed assistance to those affected by the bushfire crisis in the country, CERA will be an avenue for helping with future natural disasters, she emphasized.



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