01/26/2005, 00.00
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A month after the tsunami Christians leading reconstruction efforts

Rome (AsiaNews) – A month after the tsunami hit south-east Asia relief operations for the thousands of displaced are still underway, among them those organised and managed by small local Christian communities are particularly noticeable for their efficiency and solidarity.

In the diocese of Sibolga, on Indonesia's Sumatra Island, the local Church received aid from Caritas Austria. This enabled it to distribute rice and clothing to the local population.

"So far the money has been enough," said Fr Barnabas Winkler, a Capuchin from the South Tyrol (Italy) in Indonesia for 35 years and currently the administrator for the diocese of Sibolga.

Father Winkler told AsiaNews that the Church is doing its level best to rebuild housing and roads amidst all sorts of obstacles and difficulties. More significantly, he pointed out, "the problem now is corruption and it is hindering the work".

The Church is having difficulty in working with the government because "it wants to take 50 per cent of the money earmarked for housing reconstruction," Father Winkler said.

The great fear in the local Church is that aid might end up in some shady deal. "We don't want to give away the money that others gave us. What would happen then?" he asked.

What is important, the Italian missionary added is that aid money "goes to everyone." Unfortunately, "the government wants to know how many Muslims and how many Christians we have helped but we don't really know. We don't keep tract of that. Someone needs something; we give it to them without asking or wanting to know their religion".

In India, the massive relief work for tsunami victims by Caritas India in partnership with the 23 local partners has provided relief to 430,000 displaced people in 299 relief camps. The effort by Indian Catholic organisations is valued at 122 million rupees (€ 2.1 million or US$ 2.8 million): 88 million in temporary shelters, 15 in medical assistance, water and sanitation, 9 in books and school uniforms and 3 for short-term assistance. Currently, Caritas is focusing on building 2,000 new housing units

Christians from different Churches are also bringing relief to Thailand's six southern-most provinces affected by the tsunami. At present, some 70 Catholics are working fulltime on relief operations and churchmen and women are helping orphans.

Fr Nathee Thiranuwat, from the diocese of Surat Thani, said that in his diocese many of them are providing psychological comfort to fishermen "who however traumatised they may be by the tsunami they still refuse to leave and want to stay and continue in their traditional way of life".

Dozens of Protestant NGOs assisted by about 200 relief workers are also engaged in relief work in cooperation with government agencies.

In Sri Lanka the Archbishop of Colombo Oswald Gomis today called on all priests in his diocese to say mass in memory of the tsunami victims. Today is in fact a national day of prayer and charity for the communities stricken by the disaster. (LF)

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