10/19/2005, 00.00
PAKISTAN
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Lahore archbishop: "Help us, we have no funds and winter is coming."

by Qaiser Felix

Mgr Saldanha told AsiaNews about the commitment of Pakistani Catholics to helping quake survivors. He launches an appeal: funds to face the winter are urgently needed. Believers of all religions are coming together to gather aid supplied and to pray.

Lahore (AsiaNews) – The generosity, comfort, and help offered by Christians to quake survivors is "continual" despite "rain, cold and now even snow, which have brought more misery and death to the suffering of survivors". This is the testimony of Mgr John Saldanha, archbishop of Lahore, who echoed alarm already voiced to AsiaNews by Caritas managers: money is needed to buy tents and warm clothes, the most pressing needs at the moment.

The temperature in Kashmir has dropped to below 0°, international aid is slow and people risk death from starvation and cold. The latest death toll reported was of 53,000 victims; then there are 60,000 injured and three million homeless people who are in urgent need. However, between 20 to 25% of areas stricken by the quake are still inaccessible because of landslides, and government and NGO aid is not reaching these places. The bishop said the country's Catholics are committed to addressing the situation.

The Sacred Heart School, run by the Sisters of Charity of Jesus and Mary, is collecting essential items. Each time they reach the quota of goods established, Sr

Martine de Porres and Sr Sophia, the principal, take off with the school bus and distribute all they collected in person.

Fr Miguel Angel SDB, director of the Don Bosco Technical Workshop in Lahore, set off the day after the first tremor with a group of technicians, armed with equipment from his workshop to help the army rescue team work their way through debris in the north of the country. At the moment, armed only with blowtorches, they are searching for trapped survivors amid collapsed buildings and the first snows around Muzaffarabad in Kashmir.

Bundu Khan, a Catholic and parishioner of the Lahore Cathedral, has a van. Immediately after the quake on Saturday 8 October, he decided to use it as an ambulance service and together with his son, he started to ferry people in need of medical care, in some cases even as far as Islamabad.

Caritas Pakistan has set up six stations for gathering donations of money or goods in Lahore; supplies are delivered to the army which provides transport with helicopters to areas which cannot be reached by road. The Catholic organization has also assigned two doctors to the first aid team of the Armed Forces.

In Sukheki – 80km west of Lahore, near the Marian shrine of Mariambad – Zafar George, the head of a Christian school, joined up with Muslims to make a collection for quake victims. They collected 300,000 Pakistani rupees (5000 US dollars) and purchased rations and clothes. They transported them together to the northern areas and distributed them among those in acute need.

The emergency has prompted inter-faith collaboration. The National Council for Inter-religious Dialogue organized a fund-raising event on 17 October outside the Lahore Press Club. Catholic, Christian, Muslim, Hindu, Sikh and Parsee leaders together invited "all the faithful" to give "with an open heart". At the end of the collection, the religious leaders prayed together for victims of the quake and signed a joint statement asking the government to do "everything possible" to contain the crisis.

Mgr Saldanha asked AsiaNews to launch his appeal: aid is slow and many people are in very urgent need. Whoever wishes to make a donation may do so, using the following bank details of the Standard Chartered Bank, The Mall, Lahore. The account number is: 05 4421787-79.

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