SYDNEY, Australia — Archbishop Anthony Fisher of Sydney urged Mass attendees Sunday to pray for an end to the Australia fires, which have destroyed thousands of homes, and to donate to those affected.

The bushfires in New South Wales, Victoria, and South Australia have killed at least 28, and destroyed more than 2,000 homes. More than 2,400 square miles are now on fire, and some 38,600 square miles have burned.

“We gather in the shadow of a drought that has now lasted for three years and a bushfire season already the most intense in our country’s history,” Archbishop Fisher said during his homily at Mass in St Mary's Cathedral in Sydney Jan. 12.

“[We] stand with all those suffering the destruction of drought and fire, and all those assisting them.”

He applauded the efforts of volunteers and offered prayers for those who have lost property and lives.

“Our mettle as a community is being tested by fire,” he said.

“Together let us pray for a great outpouring of water from the heavens to cleanse our land of destruction and revivify both the bush and our hearts,” he added.

The archbishop applauded the humanitarian efforts of Catholic organizations throughout the country and encouraged parishioners to donate during a special collection at Mass on Jan. 26, Australia Day.

Archbishop Fisher pointed to the feast of the Baptism of Christ, saying this “baptism by fire” will cause the community to become stronger than before.

“Through the inferno of these past weeks, the spirit of our people was not consumed. Rather, their hardiness and goodness were on display.”

“If baptismal waters call us to higher ideals, they also purify us for living those ideals. Fire, too can test our mettle, even refine what is there,” he said. “As our nation passes through this baptism of fire, it can emerge stronger and greater than before.”

“Key Church agencies in welfare, health and education, are working with local parishes, CatholicCare services and St Vincent de Paul conferences to ensure a co-ordinated and effective response,” he said.

“The Church in Australia will direct collections on the Australia Day weekend to the St Vincent de Paul Bushfire Appeal, so that we can maintain this momentum and long continue to demonstrate human and Christian solidarity.”

The St Vincent de Paul Bushfire Appeal will provide victims with essential items, like food and clothing. It will also help victims cover unexpected bills and offer emotional support.

National President of the St Vincent de Paul Society Claire Victory encouraged people to offer financial donations, noting that the organization does not have the “capacity to sort and store additional furniture, clothing or other items in the affected areas right now.”

“We are present, at the service of those communities, providing personal and practical support and referral to professional services,” she said in a Jan. 8 statement.

“Right now, cash is needed,” she added. “Cash is the most useful contribution at this point in time.”