Jakarta (AsiaNews) - 185 dead, hundreds missing and over 270 thousand displaced is the rising toll from the eruption of Mount Merapi (Central Java) ongoing since October 26. The towns closest to the volcano are now ghost towns. A 10 cm thick layer of ash is covering hundreds of kilometres of roads, houses and fields. But the risk of new and more devastating eruptions, has not stopped the work of priests, religious and lay Catholics who for days have provided shelter, food, water and medical assistance to the displaced.
In the Archdiocese of Semarang, which includes the five regencies most affected by the eruption, dozens of parishes have organized programs to help those fleeing through the provision of churches, schools, monasteries and private homes for shelter.
Fr. Mathews Purwatma Pr, of St. Paul's High Kentugan Seminary, says that over 900 refugees are housed in the structure. Most are Catholics from neighbouring parishes, but there are also many Muslims and Hindus. "They are cared for by our students - said the priest - to ensure their physical and spiritual well-being”.Fr. Purwatma says that in this situation, all Catholics are called to help the needy guided by love and compassion of Christ.
In Tanah Mas, an area hit by recent flooding, the local pastor was unable to accommodate all of the refugees in the premises, and so instead organized a mobile service of food aid active in the cities of Muntilan, Sleman and Boyolali. "The answer was immediately clear to me - says Father P. Aloysuis Budi Purnomo – to get on with our mission among the displaced. Floods here at Tanah Mas are now a common thing and people know how to act. "
In the city of Yogyakarta and villages closest to the eruption the continual clouds of lava, ash and gas has not allowed authorities and humanitarian agencies to organize stable camps for refugees. The few present are full and hundreds of people are stranded for days in shelters. To help these people two Catholic doctors from Panti Rapih Catholic hospital in Yogyakarta, organized a series of clinics in the various shelters.
Meanwhile, the blanket of ash has now extended over most of the Indonesian archipelago, and today the Australian airline Jetstar decided to discontinue flights to the island of Bali for safety reasons.