By Philip Pullella
VATICAN CITY, May 30 (Reuters) - Pope Benedict appealed to Myanmar’s military rulers on Friday to give international aid workers effective access to the places where survivors of Cyclone Nargis most need help.
The Pope made his indirect appeal in an address to the Catholic bishops of the former Burma, who are winding up a visit to the Vatican, and urged them to be strong in the face of "distress, persecution and famine".
"I am hopeful that, following the agreement recently reached on the provision of aid by the international community, all who are ready to help will be able to furnish the type of assistance required and enjoy effective access to the places where it is needed most," he said.
Last week Myanmar junta leader Than Shwe promised he would allow in all legitimate foreign aid workers, but international aid agencies have complained of red tape and the small number of visas granted so far.
They say bureaucracy has been hampering their access to the Irrawaddy delta, where the May 2 cyclone left 134,000 people dead or missing and up to 2.4 million destitute.
"May God open the hearts of all so that a concerted effort may be made to facilitate and coordinate the ongoing endeavour to bring relief to the suffering and rebuild the country’s infrastructure," the Pope said in his address.
In an interview with Reuters earlier this week, Archbishop Paul Grawng of Mandalay, head of Myanmar’s Catholic Bishops’ Conference, said Church infrastructure in the region was so devastated it could take a decade to rebuild it.
The Pope told the bishops: "During these difficult days, I know how grateful the Burmese people are for the Church’s efforts to provide shelter, food, water and medicine to those still in distress."
He did not mention Myanmar’s human rights situation but thanked the prelates for "your faithful ministry in the midst of difficult circumstances and setbacks often beyond your control".
He urged them not to despair but to be strong "in the sure confidence that nothing — neither distress, or persecution, or famine, nor things present, nor things to come — can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord". (Editing by Tim Pearce)