By TIMES STAFF
PAWTUCKET - Special prayers will be said in Greek Orthodox Churches across Rhode Island and the United States Sunday, and special offerings will be collected, on behalf of the scores of dead and injured from the wildfires that have scorched miles of countryside in Greece.
According to the Rev. George Economou, pastor of the Assumption of the Virgin Mary Greek Orthodox Church in Pawtucket, an encyclical from the bishop has instructed local churches to pass a special tray to collect offerings for the relief effort.
Economou called the reports of more than 60 dead in the fires that began August 24, "tragic and painful" for Greek-Americans in Rhode Island. Besides the death toll, he said, the fires have wiped out people's "houses, fields and trees."
State Sen. Leonidas Raptakis of Coventry announced this week that he is launching a joint effort with the Annunciation Greek Orthodox Church of Cranston to raise money to help the victims of this disaster.
Raptakis, who traveled to Greece last month and is scheduled to return to the country next month, said he wanted to organize the Greek community in Rhode Island to provide financial support in the wake of the devastating fires.
Raptakis and Theofanis Markos, president of the Annunciation Church's Parish Council, have created a Hellenic Fire Relief Fund. At the same time, Sen. Raptakis is calling on other Greek-American communities across the United States to mobilize their resources to help Greece in this time of crisis.
"Those of us who have strong connections to Greece have been shocked by the news of these terrible fires and the state of emergency that has been declared," Raptakis said in a written statement. "Your first instinct is to want to help and I wanted to move quickly to set up a relief effort that people could contribute to here in order to help those who have lost loved ones or lost their homes as a result of this tragedy. I have no doubt other parishes and community organizations will take similar steps to reach out to Greece in this time of need.
"Even watching from a distance and hearing reports from friends and relatives in Greece, it is obvious that this is a very painful and difficult situation," Raptakis noted. "Our hope is to provide some small measure of relief to those who have been affected by this disaster and to show our solidarity with the Greek people in this time of grave emergency."
The senator said he will work with the Annunciation Church to raise money over the next few weeks to provide immediate and timely relief in the wake of the emergency. Senator Raptakis intends to present a check for all the money raised to the Hellenic Red Cross when he arrives in Athens on September 16.
Former state Sen. George Panichas, a prominent Greek-American, said much of the relief effort is being handled on a nationwide basis through the Hellenic Education and Progressive Association, which he said is the oldest Greek-American fraternal organization in the United States."
A lot of money will be funneled through HEPA," Panichas said, adding that wealthy Greek ship owners are donating the equivalent of millions or in some cases tens of millions of dollars to help their countrymen.
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