01/11/2005, 00.00
THAILAND
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Houses, boats, schools and scholarships for tsunami victims

by Weena Kowitwanij
The Church launches a five part plan to rebuild tsunami-stricken areas. From a tragedy comes solidarity between Christians and Muslims.

Bangkok (AsiaNews) – The Bishops' Conference of Thailand organised a meeting to which superiors (men and women) from 16 religious congregations participated in order to come up concrete plans to aid tsunami victims.

At the meeting which was held yesterday, Card Michael Michai Kitbunchu, chairman of the Bishops' Conference of Thailand, said that relief work will be done on behalf of the Thai Catholic Church with the co-operation of men and women religious through the Department of Religious Affairs and the Surat Thani Catholic Foundation, under the supervision of Bishop Joseph Pratan Sridarunsil, Bishop of Surat Thani".

Bishop Prathan said "the tsunami had only a minimal effect on Christian communities. Most of those affected were the poor. The Church must therefore concentrate on helping them".

He added that "volunteers are needed who can stay in the affected areas for one to three months to give the work continuity.

Each congregation will be involved in a specific sector in accordance to its charisma and thus show the Thai authorities "true Christian solidarity".

The Church's plan is divided in five specific parts:

●       housing (100-150 units) and money for families in Phang Nga;

●       building a school in the same city with priority for orphans who will be lodged at the school itself;

●       a thousand scholarships for the poor in six provinces provided by the Surat Thani Catholic Foundation;

●       new boats and equipment for fishermen;

●       a new cemetery in Phuket for victims who were not identified.

Fr Phiboon Visitnantachai, director of Coers (Caritas Thailand), stressed that help for tsunami victims was "not a matter of charity, but an awareness of mutual responsibility for our fellow humans, especially widows and orphans."

Sister Angela Phannee Phuruanhong, Mother Provincial of the Sisters of the Sacred Heart of Jesus of Bangkok, was an eyewitness of the aid and rescue operations in the areas affected by the tragedy.

She spoke "of a real inter-religious dialogue among villagers of different religions".

"Muslims collected victims' bodies from nine different villages and brought them to one place and were glad to see us visiting them," she said.

 "We tried to console them and have built a good rapport. This was an example of true solidarity," she added.

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