Church leaders pray for victims of quake off Mexican coast

CARTAGENA, Colombia — Church leaders prayed for Mexicans and Guatemalans affected by the magnitude 8.1 earthquake that struck the Pacific Coast.

At the end of Mass in Villavicencio, Colombia, Sept. 8, Pope Francis prayed “for all the people who are suffering because of the earthquake last night in Mexico.”

In an early morning tweet, the Mexican bishops’ conference prayed, “God strengthen us as brothers in the faith to (be) available to those that have suffered in this strong earthquake.”

Later, the bishops said, “We want to express our solidarity with the Mexican people in the face of this suffering caused by the earthquake last night. … We offer prayers for the victims and especially the family and populations affected, mainly in the states of Chiapas, Oaxaca and Tabasco.”

They also praised “the many prevention and security measures undertaken in buildings, along with the immediate actions of the authorities through civil protection programs.”

“We realize, however, how far we have to go in our caring for creation,” they added.

The Sept. 7 quake occurred shortly before midnight. In less than 24 hours, Mexico’s seismology service reported more than 260 aftershocks, with the strongest registering magnitude 6.1.

By midday Sept. 8, Mexican officials put the death toll at 35, with 25 of the deaths occurring in the southern state of Oaxaca. Two children died in Tabasco state, with one dying after being crushed by a falling wall. The toll was expected to climb, and school was canceled in 10 states and Mexico City so officials could assess structural damage.

Father Alejandro Solalinde, a priest working with migrants in the Isthmus of Tehuantepec region, an especially hard hit area of Oaxaca state, tweeted “solidarity and prayers with those affected by the earthquake in Mexico. Eternal rest for the deceased. Amen.”

Several churches in the Diocese of San Cristobal de Las Casas were damaged, according to media reports. A diocesan spokesman was unable to comment on the extent of the damage.

Across the border in Guatemala, the Catholic cathedral in Huehuetenango reported moderate damage. In San Marcos, Guatemala, the hospital was damaged, and rescuers reported moderate infrastructure damage.

Shortly after the earthquake occurred, Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto and Guatemalan President Jimmy Morales took to Twitter to reassure citizens. Pena Nieto called the quake “the strongest in almost a century.”

Morales urged Guatemalans: “Please maintain calm and be on alert; we’ll have more information soon.”

The quake appeared to do little serious damage to Mexico City, which was devastated by a similarly strong quake in 1985. That earthquake left thousands dead and many more homeless. The federal government — responsible for Mexico City at the time — offered an inept response, forcing people to fend for themselves, and many Mexicans rose to the occasion by forming brigades to pull people out of rubble, including babies from a collapsed children’s hospital.

Since that disaster, building codes in the national capital have improved, and earthquake drills are commonly practiced by apartment residents and office workers.

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