By Deborah Castellano Lubov

“I am close to the people of Australia…”

Pope Francis gave this assurance at his first General Audience of the New Year, which was held inside the Vatican’s Paul VI Hall, this morning.

“Among you,” he observed, “is a group from Australia,” Francis said in his Italian greetings.

The Pontiff then said: “I would like to ask everyone to pray to the Lord that He will help this people at this difficult time.”

Since last September, fires have burned more than 12 million acres across the drought-stricken country. Over a billion animals have perished. In order to protect the water sources, the authorities have planned to shoot some 10,000 dromedaries.

The Catholic Church in the country has lamented that they see “no end in sight.”

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