Vatican — Pope Benedict XVI says his prayers are with Australia and families mourning loved ones lost in the bushfires.
The Pope made the comments during an address at the Vatican on Thursday, European time.
Speaking to Australia’s first ambassador to the Vatican, Tim Fischer, the Pope referred to his visit to Sydney for World Youth Day last year.
“With vivid memories of my recent visit to your beautiful country, I assure you of my prayers for the country’s wellbeing,” he said.
“And in particular I wish to send my condolences to the grieving individuals and families in Victoria who have lost loved ones in the recent bushfires.”
Mr Fischer, the former deputy prime minister and Nationals leader, met the Pope and his Secretary of State Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone at the Vatican to mark his arrival in Rome as Australia’s first resident ambassador to the Holy See.
Mr Fischer said the Pope and Cardinal Bertone had been following news reports about the Victorian fires on Italian TV.
Earlier this week, the Pope sent his condolences over the tragedy to Governor-General Quentin Bryce.
“Both opened the batting on the matter of the bushfires and expressed their deep sympathy and condolences,” Mr Fischer told AAP after his meeting in the papal apartments.
“The Pope asked that his message of support and sympathy be extended to the governor-general, prime minister and general public.
“He added to his message (from earlier in the week) by saying the extent of the fires were just extraordinary.”
The Pope also praised the Australian government for apologising to the stolen generation one year ago.
“Cultural diversity brings much richness to the social fabric of Australia today,” the Pope said.
“For decades that collage was tarnished by the injustices so painfully endured by the indigenous peoples.”
“Through the apology offered last year by Prime Minister Rudd, a profound change of heart has been affirmed.”
The Pope said the government and Aboriginal elders had a renewed spirit of reconciliation after the apology, and could work together on the challenges ahead.