“Human, Christian and pastoral closeness” to all those affected by the earthquake and the coronavirus epidemic is what Cardinal Archbishop of Zagreb Josip Bozanic expressed March 23 in a video message transmitted by Croatian radio and television.

– 27 people injured and 250 buildings damaged in tremble in Old Town

The earthquake that shook the Croatian capital and its surroundings Sunday March 22 did not, fortunately, cause any deaths, but it did cause injuries to 27 people – 18 of them serious – and significant damage to 250 buildings in the Old Town and other peripheral areas, including the cathedral and several other churches, the Archbishop’s Palace, the Parliament, the Museum of Art and Crafts and the headquarters of the Rectorate of the University.

“This is the biggest earthquake over the last 140 years, and we are now confronted with two crises: the earthquake and COVID-19”, Croatian Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic said, lamenting the “huge damage” wrought by the earthquake and aftershocks, which have come as the country enters full lockdown mode over coronavirus.

Several people whose homes have been damaged have had to move.

Cardinal Josip Bozanić, archbishop of the capital, was miraculously saved from rubble that fell in his room, but has now moved to the Zagreb seminary along with other residents of the archbishopric.

“The Cathedral’s southern spire collapsed onto the roof of the Episcopal Palace, and there is huge damage also inside the Basilica”, said a spokesman for the Archdiocese of Zagreb, Fr. Borna Puskaric.

According to the Croatian newspaper Jutarnij list, it is a “miracle” that Cardinal Bozanić is still alive.

– “We must think first of the homeless families… The rest will come”

In his video message, the prelate expressed words of encouragement in the face of this new challenge which adds to that of coronavirus and urged solidarity and prayer:

“We must think first of the families who have been left homeless. Humans come first; help is what’s needed first. The rest will come”, said the archbishop.

Hence the exhortation to the faithful to pray and to spiritually join the priests who celebrate the Eucharist alone to contain the coronavirus contagion.

If the Croatian bishops had not put in place last week new coronavirus-related guidelines for the celebration of Sunday Masses – inviting the faithful to join them only through the media, and not physically – in last Sunday’s earthquake there likely would have been victims in the damaged churches.

– “God loves all of us very much”

“I want to emphasise that God loves all of us very much. We must respect the rules to help each other”, insisted Cardinal Bozanic, who urged the faithful to trust especially in the intercession of Blessed Alojzije Stepinac and Ivan Merz.

Lastly, Bozanic invited the faithful to join Pope Francis in the recital of the Lord’s Prayer at 12 noon this Wednesday March 25 and the Rosary from March 21-25, the Feast of the Annunciation, for all the COVID-19 sick but also for those affected by the earthquake.

Last week Cardinal Bozanic addressed a letter to Cardinal Gualtiero Bassetti, the president of the Italian Episcopal Conference, to express the “human and spiritual closeness” of the Church of Zagreb to Italy at this time of trial because of the spread of coronavirus.

In the letter, the cardinal wrote that the Catholic community of the Croatian capital prays in particular for the health personnel “who are generously confronting the emergency and for all those who, in different ways and with commitment, try to help the most disadvantaged and the whole of society”.

(With reporting by Liza Zingarini, Vatican News)

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PhD in ancient Jewish/Christian history and philosophy. University ethics lecturer with 4 years' experience in religion journalism.