Miracle statues bring hope to Peruvians

As Pope Benedict's personal envoy Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone prepares to visit earthquake-devastated Peru, sobbing survivors are drawing hope from statues of Jesus and the saints that "miraculously" survived the destruction.

Reuters reports that rescue workers placed the life-sized statues in the main square in Pisco, the Pacific coast town that was among the hardest hit by a 8.0 magnitude earthquake on Wednesday that killed more than 500 people in Peru.

The Church of San Clemente was where most of the Pisco victims died, crushed during a funeral mass.

Desperate and ragged residents, most of them hungry people who haven't slept under a roof since the quake, thronged around the Christ statue in amazement as it was carried in procession into the square by half a dozen men in hard hats and masks.

The survival of the religious figures gave people hope and something to celebrate in their desolation in this predominantly Catholic country.

"The Lord is present here with us, along with the saints, it's a miracle they weren't destroyed," said Amelia Ugaz de Aria, 69, whose home was flattened by the earthquake.

Lourdes Girau, 42, sobbed as she kneeled before Jesus and with a rag dusted off the wooden cross he was staked to.

"The fact that he's here, shows Jesus continues to live to fight so much tragedy," Girau said.

Townspeople rushed to hold the hands of San Clemente or caress the face of Jesus, their fingers tracing the painted blood stains streaming down his skin.

Meanwhile, Pope Benedict said Sunday that he will send Secretary of State Tarcisio Bertone, to Peru to show his solidarity with the victims of this week's earthquake.

The pope said Cardinal Bertone had long planned to visit the predominantly Catholic country and would "in the next few days personally bring testimony of my feelings and the concrete help of the Holy See".

In another story, the International Herald Tribune reports that a 10-month-old boy was pulled from the ruins of a collapsed church seven hours after an earthquake leveled the Peruvian city of Pisco, local media reported Saturday.

"It was a miracle that he had survived so many hours breathing only dust and death," Romulo Palomino told the state news agency Andina.

Palomino said he was searching frantically through the adobe and wood rubble of the San Clemente church for his parents when he discovered the infant in a pile of broken timbers.

"I thought he was dead. I picked him up carefully and I noticed that his heart was beating," Palomino said. "I cleaned him and he started to sneeze and cry."

The pews of the church in the port city of Pisco were packed for a special Mass when Wednesday's quake hit and crumbled its domed ceiling killing about 100 churchgoers.

Peruvians weep at church statues that survive quake (Reuters, 19/8/07)
Pope's top aide to visit quake-hit Peru (Reuters Alertnet, 19/8/07)
Man says he saved infant from church destroyed in Peru quake (International Herald Tribune, 18/8/07)

LINKS (not necessarily endorsed by Church Resources)
Peru (Wikipedia)
Caritas Australia

Pope calls for aid to stricken Peru (CathNews, 17/8/07)

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