Pope pleads for prayers to stop fires in Amazon

Pope Francis has warned that the Amazon forest is vital for our Earth and appealed for prayers that fires there are quickly controlled, even as Brazil sent tens of thousands of soldiers out to confront the crisis.

The Pope added his voice to the chorus of international concern that the blazes in Brazil will have grave repercussions on the world’s environmental health.

The pontiff, who is from the South American nation of Argentina that borders Brazil, told the public in St Peter’s Square that “we’re all worried” about the vast Amazon fires.

He warned that that green “lung of forest is vital for our planet”.

Francis said: “Let us pray so that, with the efforts of all, they are controlled as quickly as possible.”

Brazilian government satellite monitors have recorded more than 41,000 fires in the Amazon region so far this year – with more than half of those coming this month alone.

Experts say most of the fires are set by farmers or ranchers clearing existing farmland.

But the same monitoring agency has reported a sharp increase in deforestation this year as well.

The blazes have sparked anti-government protests in Brazil and became a pressing issue for leaders at the G7 Summit in France.

Backed by military aircraft, tens of thousands of Brazilian troops on Saturday were deployed to fight the fires.

Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro also tried to temper global concern, saying previously deforested areas had burned and that intact rainforest was spared.

Even so, the fires were an issue of top concern at the G7 in France.

French President Emmanuel Macron said leaders of major democracies were nearing an agreement on how to help fight the fires and repair the damage. He said agreement would involve both technical and financial mechanisms “so that we can help them in the most effective way possible”.

It’s not clear, however, whether Brazil would welcome the help.

Mr Bolsonaro, who has often urged more development in the Amazon, has feuded with Mr Macron, whose office said on Friday that the Brazilian leader “had lied to him” about environmental commitments.

Asked whether he would speak with Mr Macron, Mr Bolsonaro said: “If he calls me, I will answer. I am being extremely well-mannered with him even though he called me ‘a liar’.”

Meanwhile, Bolivian President Evo Morales said on Saturday he would welcome more help in fighting his own country’s wildfires, which have scorched more than 744,000 hectares of land in the Chiquitanía region over the past two weeks. Spain, Chile and Paraguay have already offered aid.

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