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Celebrations cancelled as Spain mourns crash victims

26 July 2013

by Helen Saxbee


Crash scene: a train carriage is lifted by a crane at the site where the train was derailed, on the outskirts of Santiago de Compostela 

Crash scene: a train carriage is lifted by a crane at the site where the train was derailed, on the outskirts of Santiago de Compostela 

THE Spanish Prime Minister, Mariano Rajoy, declared three days of national mourning on Thursday, after 79 people died and more than 130 were injured in a high-speed rail crash on the outskirts of Santiago de Compostela, on Wednesday.

A train travelling from Madrid to Ferrol was derailed as it emerged from a tunnel on to a sharp bend in the track. Investigators are assessing suggestions that the train was going too fast, and police are to question one of the drivers, who is under formal investigation.

Annual festivities planned to mark the feast of St James in the City of Santiago de Compostela, in the north-west of Spain, were cancelled. Thousands of pilgrims who had walked the Camino de Santiago were due to arrive in the city for the festival.

Many passengers on the train are thought to have been travelling to take part in the celebrations. The Santiago tourist board said that all festivities, including a traditional high mass in the cathedral, would not now take place.

Prayers and condolences from around the world have been sent to Spain. Pope Francis, currently in Rio de Janeiro for World Youth Day, sent a telegram to the Archbishop of Santiago de Compostela, Mgr Julián Barrio Barrio, expressing his "intense sorrow and his spiritual closeness" to all those suffering as a result of the crash.

In his homily at the morning eucharist on Thursday, the Archbishop said that he was confident that "the Apostle James has journeyed with the victims to the gate of Glory". He thanked deeply the people of Galicia for their solidarity and support.

On Friday, the Bishop of Gibraltar in Europe, Dr Geoffrey Rowell, said: "The news of the horrific train crash near Santiago de Compostela in which so many were killed and injured has shocked all our congregations in Spain and Portugal. 

"That it happened on the eve of St James's Day, the great pilgrim festival of Compostela is deeply poignant, and many of the victims may well have been pilgrims travelling for the celebration.

"For those who have walked the camino, and others who have visited (as I did myself many years ago), Santiago is a holy place. We commend to God those who have died, and pray for the bereaved and injured, and for the people of Spain at this time."

The Bishop of the Spanish Reformed Episcopal Church, the Rt Revd Carlos López-Lozano, called on all Anglican churches in Spain to remember the victims of the crash in their services this Sunday. Bishop Lozano sent a message of condolence and solidarity to the families and friends of those affected, saying: "Our prayers are with you. We ask God to give you faith, strength, and comfort to deal with such painful moments."

The general secretary of the World Council of Churches, Dr Olav Fyske Tveit, said in a statement on Friday that at the weekly common prayer service at the ecumenical centre in Geneva: "We shall offer prayers in memory of those who passed away and prayers of intercession for the healing of the injured and for the consolation of all who are affected by this tragedy.

"While praying and mourning in the aftermath of this catastrophe, we call upon all those responsible for the security of public transport in Europe and beyond to strengthen their efforts in order to avoid such disastrous events in the future."

A meeting in Norway of the Alliance of Religions and Conservation, an organisation of environmental groups involved in pilgrimage cities and shrines, lit candles and a held a minute's silence for the victims. Delegates from Santiago de Compostela had been expected at the meeting, but on Thursday it was not known whether anyone would be able to attend.

The Roman Catholic Archbishop of Armagh, Cardinal Seán Brady, also wrote to Mgr Barrio Barrio on behalf of the Irish Church. He said: "The entire Catholic community here in Ireland is spiritually close to you and all who have been affected at this time, and I assure you of our on-going prayers.

"The region of Santiago de Compostela is a place that is close to the hearts of many Irish people. I invite all Irish people currently on pilgrimage to offer their prayers for those who have died in this tragic accident. I also invite all the faithful to offer prayers at masses this weekend in Ireland for all who have been affected in any way by this tragedy."

King Juan Carlos and Queen Sofia visited survivors in hospital on Thursday, praising what the King described as the spirit of citizenship shown by rescue workers and blood donors. "All Spanish people join in the sorrow of the relatives of the deceased," he said.

The Spanish Ambassador to London, Federico Trillo-Figueroa, attended a special mass for the victims at St James's RC Church, Spanish Place, in central London, on Thursday.

The Prime Minister, David Cameron, tweeted that he had written to Prime Minister Rajoy after the crash. Mr Cameron said that he sent his "deep condolences to those who've lost loved ones, and thoughts and prayers to those injured."

President Obama sent his "deepest sympathies and condolences" to the families of those who had died. He thanked the Spanish government and rescue workers for their attempts to find missing victims, of whom six were American.

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