06/07/2005, 00.00
ITALY – INDIA
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Solidarity, PIME's greatest gift to tsunami victims

Aid worker back from Tamil Nadu talks about the local population's gratitude, hope and courage after seeing the missionaries' active commitment to reconstruction.

Milan (AsiaNews) – Giuliana Benedusi, 55, is a volunteer aid worker with the Pontifical Institute for Foreign Missions (PIME) who has just come back from Tamil Nadu, India's worst-his state, after a two-month stay. She remembers horrible things she'd rather forget, and beautiful things she cannot get out of her mind.

"I will never forget the common graves that contained children, whole schools, swept to their death by the waves," she said. "But I won't ever forget the enthusiasm and gratitude in people's eyes for what PIME missionaries did for them".

Giuliana's most beautiful dreams are those from Satraskuppam village, 100 kilometres from Chennai (ex Madras).

"Here PIME Fathers really brought hope and the courage to start living again," she said.

In this mixed Hindu-Muslim village there are no Catholics, but "everyone feels very close to PIME, the priests and local aid workers," she explained.

"Their first fishing expedition in mid-February was done on boats bought with PIME campaign money," she added.

When Fr Piero Gheddo, a veteran missionary in India, launched the boats, locals said: "Our own political leaders don't help us and yet you, who come from so far, do".

Giuliana, who has a background as a volunteer aid worker in Thailand, said that the greatest gift these people received was the affection and human support offered by PIME.

"For example, in Satraskuppam, a playground was built. At least, it brought a smile to children's faces," she said.

In the village everyone, irrespective of age, warmly welcome PIME Fathers when they come.  "The little ones run to hug them. The village chief, a man in his 40s or 50s, becomes visibly emotional when he meets Fr Anthony Thota, PIME coordinator in India. The two are now good friends," she said.

Giuliana Benedusi will speak about her experience at the PIME meeting scheduled for tonight in Milan. The meeting itself will give an overview of the PIME tsunami campaign.

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