Pope Benedict XVI urged international community to establish humanitarian corridors

Pope Benedict XVI urged the international community to establish humanitarian corridors in Georgia so that the dead can be buried, the wounded can receive medical help and refugees can return home.

The pope, speaking at a noon blessing Aug. 17, said he was continuing to follow "with attention and worry" the events in Georgia, where a cease-fire agreement was reached the day before.

A Georgian attack on the breakaway province of South Ossetia Aug. 7 followed by a Russian invasion of Georgia left an unknown number of dead, including civilians, and prompted an estimated 60,000 people to flee their homes.

The pope said the situation of the refugees, in particular women and children who lack basic necessities, requires a generous response by the international community.

"I ask for the opening, without further delay, of humanitarian corridors between the region of South Ossetia and the rest of Georgia, so that the dead who have been abandoned may receive a dignified burial, the wounded may be adequately treated, and people who desire to do so may be allowed to reach their loves ones," he said.

The pope said it was important that ethnic minorities in the region be protected and their fundamental rights respected.

He expressed the hope that the cease-fire, brokered with help from the European Union, would last, and he called for new efforts to encourage "a permanent solution, through dialogue and mutual good will."

The pope made his comments at his summer villa in Castel Gandolfo, south of Rome, where he was following a reduced summer schedule. Hundreds of people filled the courtyard at the papal palace to cheer the pontiff and receive a blessing.

Meanwhile, the Vatican's diplomatic representative to Georgia, Archbishop Claudio Gugerotti, told Vatican Radio Aug. 17 that humanitarian aid was not getting through to the needy.

He said he had visited a school near the Georgian capital of Tbilisi, where he found about 1,500 people temporarily housed without toilet facilities or adequate food. Children in particular were suffering, he said.

"I hope humanitarian aid arrives. It's a question of guaranteeing the minimum for survival to these refugees," he said.

Laura Sheahen, regional information officer with the U.S. bishops' Catholic Relief Services, reported from Georgia that CRS was working with Caritas Georgia to provide emergency aid. Caritas Georgia and CRS are affiliates of Caritas Internationalis, the international umbrella group of Catholic aid agencies.

"Caritas is already ministering to hundreds of internally displaced people in Tbilisi by providing hot meals at a soup kitchen, bringing bread and rolls to temporary shelters, and coordinating additional aid through worldwide Caritas partners," Sheahen said in the report posted on CRS' Web site.

Caritas Georgia has been working to help displaced people from the destroyed sections of Ts'khinvali, the capital of South Ossetia. Caritas has been providing food and other needed items to families who fled the Gori region and have taken shelter in safe places, such as an isolated Catholic retreat house and city shelters.

"Because it already had a soup kitchen and large bakery, Caritas Georgia was able to swing into action early in the crisis and now is feeding 300 people three meals a day at one shelter alone," said Sheahen.

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