MELBOURNE, Australia — Thousands of Australian members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons) participated in the Australia National Day of Mourning on Sunday, 22nd February. Prayers were offered in more than 300 Latter-day Saint congregations across the country, remembering the victims of the recent Victoria bushfires and expressing thanks to the many emergency workers.

Earlier the Church announced that it had donated $250,000 to the 2009 Victorian Bushfire Relief Fund launched by the Victorian Government in partnership with the Federal Government and the Red Cross to support efforts to help communities devastated by the recent wildfires. In response, the Church was thanked by Robert Tickner, CEO of the Australian Red Cross. “While those helped by your generosity will not be able to thank you in person, please accept our thanks on their behalf,” he said.

This complements the large amount of funds and effort supplied by other entities and organisations and reflects the desire of Church members to do their part. Latter-day Saints help people affected by disasters and others in need by giving what members of the faith call fast offerings. On the first Sunday of each month, members are invited to go without food and drink – or fast – for a day. The money saved from buying the skipped meals is contributed to a fund that is used to help individuals and families in tough financial circumstances.

The Church’s donation to the Victorian Bushfire Appeal Fund comes from contributions of Australian Latter-day Saints who regularly make such fast offerings. The Australia Prime Minister’s office has implemented a program for citizens to write their feelings in a Bushfire Message Book as an expression of sympathy and support. For those whose lives have been forever changed by this tragedy, this will stand as a lasting record of the nation’s support and sympathy, and resolve to help them rebuild their lives and their communities.

Five Church member families were affected by the fires in Kinglake, Horsham, Seymour, Bendigo and Chum Creek, near Healesville. Local Church officials in Victoria have been assisting them as well as their neighbours in meeting their immediate needs.

As in the case in other parts of the world after natural disasters, hundreds of Mormon volunteers are gearing up to work alongside others in the clean-up and rebuilding efforts that will begin when it is safe to do so. The program called Mormon Helping Hands has been utilised both in Australia and other countries to assist governments and communities with numerous recovery projects.

“The Church has closely monitored the bushfire crisis as it developed day-by-day,” said Elder David S. Baxter, the Church’s Pacific Area President. “We have been in contact with relief agencies and officials to determine how best to help those who have been affected by this tragedy, and who have lost homes, property and loved ones .”

The most senior leaders of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints ? the First Presidency and The Quorum of the Twelve Apostles ? have been kept informed of these developments, according to Elder Baxter. “They have expressed their sympathies to all who have suffered loss, and to all of Australia.”