Catholic aid in Asia going to quake victims
Solidarity and help from local Churches across Asia is getting under way. For the first time, Chinese Catholics send money for help abroad.

Bangkok (AsiaNews/UCAN) – Local Churches across Asia are responding with aid, funds and prayers in the wake of the earthquake and tsunami that devastated coastal areas in south and south-east Asia.

The international network of Caritas, Catholic relief and social-service agencies as well as bishops and ordinary believers is forging a coordinated response to the December 26 tsunami that has left thousands of people homeless.

So far more than € 1.3 million (US$ 1.7 million) have been raised. The Italian Bishops' Conference has allocated € 3 million to the emergency.

Here is a synopsis of Catholic relief operations for the affected areas of Asia.

India-based Caritas Asia is coordinating relief assistance from national branches to local charities.

Caritas Asia executive director Fr Yvon Ambroise said: "The 162 Caritas organizations around the world have pledged money, expertise and cooperation to meet the tragedy.

An emergency response solidarity team is scheduled to reach Sri Lanka within 48 hours. Another is already operational in India.

Father Ambroise himself said he will soon leave for Indonesia and Thailand to coordinate Catholic relief activities there.

In China, Beifang Jinde Catholic Social Service Centre, a Church-run charity based in the city of Shijiazhuang, 350 kilometres southwest of Beijing, will donate US$ 6,000.

"This is the first time that the centre is making donations outside China," said Fr John Baptist Zhang Shijiang, the centre's director.

"Although the amount is small," he added, "it represents the care and concern of the Catholics in mainland China and solidarity with Caritas Asia and the peoples of the affected countries."

In Macau, Bishop Jose Lai Hung-seng said he would contact all parish priests and urge them to encourage parishioners to donate. Caritas Macau has already set up bank accounts for local donations.

In South Korea, the Bishops' Conference has already sent US$ 50,000:  US$ 20,000 for Sri Lanka and US$ 10,000 India, Indonesia and Thailand respectively.

Mgr Nicholas CheongJin-suk, Archbishop of Seoul, issued an appeal asking Seoul Catholics to offer help. The archdiocese has already made a donation of US$ 30,000 to Sri Lanka.

Caritas Japan has donated US$ 100,000 through Caritas Internationalis. It has also launched a fund-raising drive in all 16 of its diocesan units to aid those hit by the disaster.

"Although fund-raising requests for the Niigata Nakakoshi earthquake [which killed 40 people and injured 2,700 two months ago] is almost complete," Bishop Isao Kikuchi of Niigata, the agency's executive director said, "we appeal for emergency aid for this huge disaster in Asia". (LF)