Foul Weather, High Winds, Floods Claim Lives Around the World

Unprecedented flooding around the world drew the attention of Pope Francis during his last general audience of 2015 in Rome on Dec. 30. Noting several rain-driven crises, he said, “I invite everyone to pray for the victims of the calamities which in these days have befallen the United States, Great Britain and South America—particularly Paraguay.” Pope Francis added, “May the Lord give comfort to all these peoples, and may fraternal solidarity aid them in their need.”

Paraguay has been the country hardest hit in South America by flooding that has also spread across Argentina, Brazil and Uruguay, causing several fatalities and driving at least 150,000 people from their homes. Climatologists say the flooding is due to unusually heavy summer rains resulting from an intense “El Niño” weather phenomenon this year.

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In the United States, severe weather that included tornadoes and flash floods killed dozens of people in December. The foul weather also brought heavy snow and freezing rain over a great stretch of the country from Texas to northern New England.

The United Kingdom was in the throes of another major north Atlantic storm as Pope Francis called for prayer and assistance in Rome. Several episodes of severe weather had already produced flooding from western Scotland to Wales.

A 78-year-old Catholic priest trapped in his home was among those rescued as floods ravaged the north of England. The Rev. John Gott was in the rectory kitchen at the Church of the Good Shepherd in the Yorkshire town of Mytholmroyd when barriers to the River Calder collapsed and a wall of water crashed into his home. The Diocese of Salford was also badly hit by the floods, with the Church of the English Martyrs in Whalley swamped by the River Calder. Worshippers have been given permission to use a neighboring Anglican church while the building is cleaned up.

The floods have caused damage collectively estimated to be around $8.6 billion. Rain fell at record levels across northern England throughout December; Scotland and Ireland also were affected. Hundreds of families were evacuated on Dec. 26 when rain arriving with Storm Eva caused widespread flooding across northern England, including Manchester, Leeds and York.

Practical ecumenism was also evident in the Lake District of Cumbria, in the Diocese of Lancaster, where Catholic, Anglican and Methodist leaders agreed to help one another, particularly with the use of church buildings, when any party requested assistance. The Rev. Tom Singleton, a priest serving in Cockermouth and Keswick, said that groups of Muslim men had also arrived from Yorkshire to help to clean up flooded areas after they saw the devastation on television.

He said the local Christian churches have a “really good tradition of working together,” but that the involvement of Muslims was new.

“To have people come in, of their own volition, is something remarkable,” he said on Dec. 31.

In Carlisle, another Cumbrian town, the 600-student Newman Secondary School was lost to floods; students will start the new year being taught from trailers in a field.

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Pope Francis waves as he arrives to lead his general audience in Paul VI hall at the Vatican Dec. 13. (CNS photo/Tony Gentile, Reuters)
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