Port Blair (AsiaNews) Children and their stories are inspiring tsunami survivors on the Andamans, one of the hardest-hit areas by the December 26 tsunami.
"It is a blessing to see sadness and despair turn into relief thanks to the smiling faces of children playing near the Cathedral," said Mgr Aleixo das Neves Dias, Bishop of Port Blair, the Catholic diocese of the Andamans.
The Catholic Cathedral of Maria Stella Maris has become the largest refugee centre for tsunami survivors on the Islands. The building and a nearby school are now home to some 1.400 people. A big TV screen has been set up to give the displaced some distraction.
A 13-year-old boy who refused to let go of his 2-year-old sister is staying at the Missionaries of Charity hostel which is normally reserved for women.
The Islands' death toll is estimated at around 7,500.
Bishop Dias heads a diocese serving some 40,000 Catholics spread across 576 islands and organised into 13 parish churches. The local clergy is made of 14 diocesan priests, 14 missionaries of St Francis Xavier (Pilar Fathers), 4 Jesuits, 3 Salesians and 2 Capuchins. There are also 86 nuns from 14 different congregations.
Evangelisation of the Islands began with the Pilar Fathers. "But now," Bishop Dias said, "40 years of missionary work has to start over again".
Most of the local 180 or so chapels must be rebuilt. Many churches, too, were swept away by the tsunami and must be reconstructed
However, government officials have not been cooperating with Church staff in the relief work, according to the Bishop. They only come for official functions.
"Ever since survivors found refugee in our buildings we have been giving them food, clothing and medicines," Bishop Dias said.
The Pontifical Institute for Foreign Missions has already sent US$ 30,000 to the Indian Pilar Fathers and finance some of the relief and reconstruction work. PIME is still urging people to donate money to help it help tsunami victims.
Meanwhile, the World Health Organisation has chosen St John's Catholic Hospital on the Nicobar Islands (southern Andamans) as its disease surveillance centre from where it can assess the situation in the tsunami-affected areas.
"A team of doctors and paramedical staff from St John's, a premier hospital run by Catholic Bishops' Conference of India (CBCI), will document diseases and help in the prevention of disease outbreaks," said Dr. Sanjiv Lewin, head of the hospital's paediatric unit. A second team is setting up health care posts across the islands.
The hospital is also working towards rebuilding the education system. "We found that at least 88 of the 150 odd teachers were either missing or dead. Most schools have been swept away," Dr Lewin said. The hospital will raise resources to build schools and enrol children. (LF-SD)