Pope Francis, urging prayers, says Amazon forest vital for our Earth

View of fire in the Amazon rainforest, near Abuna, Rondonia state, Brazil, on August 24, 2019. - President Jair Bolsonaro authorized Friday the deployment of Brazil's armed forces to help combat fires raging in the Amazon rainforest, as a growing global outcry over the blazes sparks protests and threatens a huge trade deal. (Photo by CARL DE SOUZA / AFP)

VATICAN CITY — Pope Francis said Sunday that the Amazon forest is vital for our Earth and is urging prayers that fires there are quickly controlled.

Francis 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 neighboring South American nation of Argentina, 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.”

The blazes have sparked anti-government protests in Brazil and became a pressing issue for leaders at the Group of Seven summit in France.

Aerial view of burnt areas of the Amazon rainforest, near Boca do Acre, Amazonas state, Brazil, in the Amazon basin, on August 24, 2019. – President Jair Bolsonaro authorized Friday the deployment of Brazil’s armed forces to help combat fires raging in the Amazon rainforest, as a growing global outcry over the blazes sparks protests and threatens a huge trade deal. (Photo by Lula SAMPAIO / AFP)

Backed by military aircraft, Brazilian troops on Saturday deployed in the Amazon to fight the fires.

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

Even so, the fires were an issue of top concern at the G-7 summit.

French President Emmanuel Macron said Sunday that leaders of major democracies are 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.

A smoke cloud is seen over a burnt area after a fire in the Amazon rainforest, in Novo Progresso, Para state, Brazil, on August 24, 2019. – President Jair Bolsonaro authorized Friday the deployment of Brazil’s armed forces to help combat fires raging in the Amazon rainforest, as a growing global outcry over the blazes sparks protests and threatens a huge trade deal. (Photo by Joao LAET / AFP)

The Brazilian military operations came after widespread criticism of Bolsonaro’s handling of the crisis. On Friday, the president authorized the armed forces to put out fires, saying he is committed to protecting the Amazon region.

About 44,000 troops will be available for “unprecedented” operations to put out the fires, and forces are heading to six Brazilian states that asked for federal help, Defense Minister Fernando Azevedo said. The states are Roraima, Rondonia, Tocantins, Para, Acre and Mato Grosso.

France’s president thrust the Amazon fires to the top of the agenda of the G-7 summit after declaring it a global emergency and threatening to torpedo a European Union trade deal with Brazil and other South American countries. France claims a small part of the Amazon in its overseas department of French Guiana.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel, also at the summit, came down against blocking the EU-Mercosur trade accord, but said she was in favor of treating the Amazon fires as an urgent threat.

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