PERTH, Australia -- The Vatican has urged Australia's Catholic bishops to persist with their "generous and passionate work" for asylum seekers after at least 48 of them were killed off Christmas Island Dec. 15.
Archbishop Antonio Veglio, president of the Pontifical Council for Migrants and Travelers, and Father Gabriele Bentoglio, undersecretary of the pontifical council, sent the letter of encouragement Dec. 17 to Bishop Joseph Grech of Sandhurst, the Australian bishops' delegate for migration issues.
On Dec. 15, 48 asylum seekers -- believed to be mostly Iraqi and Iranian -- drowned off Christmas Island after their boat crashed into cliffs in stormy seas. The Australian Navy rescued 42 survivors, and the Australian Federal Police are investigating the actions of three Indonesian crewmen in connection with the incident.
A survivor told Australian newspaper publisher News Limited Dec. 20 that there were about 80 people on board, including 30 children.
More than 2,000 people are being held in an immigration detention facility on Christmas Island, more than 1,600 miles northwest of Perth.