BY MARK BENBOW
POPE BENEDICT xvi has called for more international assistance for Bangladesh, where thousands have been killed in one of the worst cycfones in the country's history.
The Pope expressed his condolences to the families of the dead and said that he hoped the international community, which has moved quickly to aid the survivors, would continue to provide relief.
"In recent days a tremendous cyclone struck southern Bangladesh, causing numerous victims and serious destruction," Benedict XVI told pilgrims at his Sunday blessing at the Vatican last weekend. "I encourage every possible effort to help these brothers and sisters who have been so sorely tried."
Government officials estimated that at least 3,000 people died as the cyclone tore through coastal areas of Bangladesh on November 15 with winds estimated at 150 mph. Relief agencies said the final death toll could reach 10,000.
In Dhaka, Bangladesh's capital, the head of the nation's charitable agency said Caritas officials were rushing aid to the coast.
"Though there were warnings of the cyclone, its impact has been deadly. The people have been badly affected," said Auxiliary Bishop Theotonius Games of Dhaka, chairman of Caritas Bangladesh and secretarygeneral of Catholic bishops' conference of Bangladesh.
Bishop Gomes said Caritas officials had rushed to the worst-affected areas, such as the port city of Chittagong to assess the needs of the affected people and plan the Church's relief work.
Caritas Bangladesh appealed for food aid and tarpaulins or plastic sheeting and blankets to provide shelter to the families rendered homeless by the cyclone.
"Crops have been destroyed in waterlogged areas, fishermen communities and day labourers have lost their sources of income and thousands of people are too poor to have any food stocks in their homes,said the appeal.
Caritas said its national, regional and field offices had taken preventive measures and joined in cautioning the villagers along the coastlines to flee the coastal areas.
Many villagers could find no trace of their homes the day after the disaster.
Bishop Games said that many simple Church structures had been damaged, but there has been no report of damage to any major Church properties. Meanwhile, the international Caritas network responded with pledges of financial assistance.
For instance, Catholic Relief Services. the US bishops' international relief and development agency, initially pledged $50,000 (E24, 000) M aid.
Meanwhile, Cafod, Caritas's partner in England and Wales, has offered £200,000 of immediate aid for the cyclone victims.
Christians make up less than one per cent of Bangladesh's estimated 150 million population, nearly 90 per cent of whom am Muslim. Hindus and Buddhists account for the rest of the population.
In his Sunday Angelus Pope Benedict spoke about how Christians are called on to face painful trials — include lag natural catastrophes — with the confidence of faith.
Christians should trust in God's love as they cope with difficulties, he argued.
"We don't fear the future, even when it appears ominous, because the God of Jesus Christ, who took up history to open it up to its transcendent fulfillment, is its alpha and omega, the beginning and the end," he said. He added that Christ guarantees that the meaning of the universe is contained in "every small but genuine act of love."