Big freeze in Siberia

 More than 40 million people in Siberia are suffering from the severest cold spell in the last 50 years, Aid to the Church in Need reported yesterday. (Thursday) With temperatures as low as minus-56 degrees gas supply systems have broken down in many localities. Aid to the Church in Need is already supporting the religious congregations in this region. With this spell of freezing weather they will be increasing their assistance. A spokeswoman said: "It is above all the homeless, the aged and the poor who are suffering most from the unbearable cold. Street children are among the first victims of the big freeze. The state hospital in Irkutsk is overrun with victims of frostbite and cold. The social services are not able to cope with this crisis. The St Charles Borromeo sisters have already taken in 40 children, and helping others who come to the door. They are also visiting the elderly and sick. The Sisters of Our Lady's House, supported by Aid to the Church in Need, are also working with the homeless. They run a drop-in centre." It is just two years since the apostolic administration for Eastern Siberia was established in Irkutsk. Sixteen million people live in the region. About a million have Catholic roots. Wit an area of 13 million square kilometres, this administration is the largest diocese in the world.