VATICAN CITY (CNS) — Pope Francis offered prayers for victims of a magnitude 6 earthquake that hit a remote, mountainous area of Afghanistan near the border with Pakistan.
By June 24, two days after the quake, at least 1,150 people were dead — the death toll was expected to increase — and more than 1,500 people were injured in the quake, which hit just over 100 miles southeast of Kabul, in Gayan district.
At the end of his general audience June 22, Pope Francis said: “In the past few hours, an earthquake has claimed victims and caused extensive damage in Afghanistan. I express my sympathy to the injured and those affected by the earthquake, and I pray in particular for those who have lost their lives and for their families. I hope that with everyone’s help, the suffering of the dear Afghan people can be alleviated.”
The Associated Press reported the disaster posed a major test for Afghanistan’s Taliban government, which seized power last August. Many international aid agencies left after the Taliban takeover.
Catholic Relief Services, the U.S. bishops’ international relief and development agency, still has a presence in Afghanistan, but not in the area of the quake.
“At this time, local authorities are working with organizations that have programs in that area most affected by the earthquake,” said a CRS spokeswoman. “CRS staff continue to monitor the situation and will provide support as needed.”
The spokeswoman said “our hearts go out” to the people of Afghanistan and noted the earthquake came “at a time when the country faces a severe hunger crisis, with more than half the population not having enough to eat. CRS continues to support people with cash assistance to meet immediate food needs as well as support for agricultural livelihoods in the Central Highlands of Afghanistan.”