By Gina Christian
Catholics in Slovenia are rallying emergency aid and turning to prayer as record floods have ravaged that nation, killing at least six and leaving hundreds homeless.
Heavy rains and flash floods over the past several days have inflicted “the worst national disaster in Slovenia’s (recent) history,” affecting “two-thirds of the country,” said Prime Minister Robert Golob at an Aug. 5 national security meeting.
Slovenia’s Catholic bishops said the entire nation “is experiencing hardship due to flooded fields, destroyed crops, growing torrential rains,” according to a statement shared by Radio Ognjišce, a Catholic radio station in Slovenia, on its website.
Slovenia’s weather service reported downpours totaling a month’s worth of rain in less than a day.
Along with the floods, “numerous landslides” are also impacting residents, said Slovenska Karitas (Caritas Slovenia) on its website. The agency is part of Caritas Internationalis, a confederation of over 160 Catholic relief organizations in more than 200 countries that form the official humanitarian arm of the universal Catholic Church.
The storms have “calmed down,” but “the devastation left by the water remains,” said Peter Tomažic, secretary general of Slovenska Karitas, in an email to OSV News.
Golob estimated the property damage, which includes roads, bridges and energy infrastructure, at some $550 million.
NATO and the European Union began sending aid Aug. 7, and Ukraine has offered support even as it battles a full-scale invasion by Russia.
The Slovenian bishops said that “the call for prayer and consolation resonates” throughout the nation, as many “are still trembling for the lives of their loved ones and for their own survival.”
They expressed their “closeness to those affected” and promised both “prayers and material support.”
“We especially encourage priests to revive devotions in their communities that raise before God our requests for the grace of averting the dire hour,” they said, recommending the inclusion of prayers during Mass “to avert the storm” as well as the recitation of litanies for that purpose.
The bishops also asked the faithful “to show (their) solidarity” by supporting Slovenska Karitas.
Tomažic said more than 430 Slovenska Karitas volunteers have helped provide water, food, clothes and accommodation to almost 5,400 affected individuals.
The volunteers, including some 250 youth and young adults, have also been rolling up their sleeves to clean flood-damaged residences, he said.
Fellow Caritas organizations have contributed to those efforts, with Caritas Croatia and Caritas Austria sending a combined total of 31 machines to aid in drying flood-soaked residences, said Tomažic. Caritas in Germany and Italy, nations that have also experienced recent floods, have offered drying machines, generators and water pumps, as has Caritas Poland. Caritas Bosnia and Herzegovina and Catholic Relief Services, the U.S. Caritas member organization, are assisting as well.
In the U.S., Slovenian Catholics in the Archdiocese of Chicago will gather donations during an Aug. 13 pilgrimage and picnic hosted by the Slovenian Catholic Mission in Lemont, Illinois, Franciscan Father Metod Ogorevc told OSV News by phone.
Tomažic said “particularly touching are the messages of sympathy” from Caritas agencies his own organization has previously aided, among them Caritas members in South Sudan, Rwanda and Kenya.
The encouragement and support are badly needed, one volunteer told Tomažic.
“I’ve already shed all my tears,” said the volunteer, whose message was included by Tomažic in his email to OSV News. “Late yesterday afternoon, (a) family was evacuated by helicopter. In the morning, their house was already floating down the Meža river. Today the young Caritas volunteers came. They are like pure gold. We need working hands so much.”
Tomažic said companies such as consumer goods retailers Mercator and Hofer have teamed up with his agency to collect critical items for flood victims, especially shelf-stable foods, personal hygiene and cleaning products, diapers and shovels.
In an online update, Slovenska Karitas said that, so far, it has received “more than 175 requests from households for help in rebuilding homes and buildings that were damaged in the recent storms.”
The agency said along with the floods, “numerous landslides” are also impacting residents, adding that “the weather forecasts are still not favorable and may affect an even greater number of households in other parts of Slovenia as well.”
Slovenska Karitas staffer Terezija Vivod, located in the village of Prevalje, said she and her team were sheltering flood evacuees in the local parish gym.
“(Slovenska Karitas) volunteers and colleagues provided them with clothes, food, and water,” she told the agency. “We will also prepare a hot meal for them. People’s gratitude is immeasurable.”
“We are invited to stand together, connect in solidarity, stand up concretely for all the vulnerable and for all those who are in fear due to physical dangers,” said the bishops. “Above all, let’s rekindle faith and trust in God’s closeness and help.”