Christians mobilise to help Nias quake victims
by Mathias Hariyadi
Capuchin friars and Clarisse nuns are leading in relief work on behalf of quake victims. Convents have become relief centres whilst religious men and men volunteer to help.

Jakarta (AsiaNews) – Losses and damages caused by the March 28 earthquake have not stopped the Catholic Church on Nias Island from directly helping victims, 2,000 of whom might have died.

Speaking to AsiaNews, Sister Petronella Lie, of the Sisters of Charity of Our Lady Mother of Mercy, said that priests and nuns have been working together to bring relief assistance to the island's residents. Capuchin friars and the nuns of the Order of St Clare, who are present on Nias, were the first off the mark.

Hundreds of residents, afraid that a tsunami might hit, fled to safer places like the Capuchin convent on Lampu Mountain.

Nias and Simeuleu are the hardest hit areas by the quake which measured 8.5-8.7 on the Richter scale.

The quake set off a tsunami alert among the countries of the region, already tried by the December 26, 2004, tragedy

Nias, with about 220,000 residents, is a predominantly Christian area and comes under the jurisdiction of the diocese of Sibolga.

Sister Lie said that some of her relatives were "wounded or died under the rubbles of buildings that collapsed as a result of the quake".

She is not alone in having suffered personal losses. Father Barnabas Winkler, an Italian Capuchin in Indonesia for 35 years and administrator of the diocese of Sibolga, was seriously wounded from the collapse of a church in Gunung Sitoli, Nias's capital, a city now partly destroyed.

Despite the pain and suffering that they personally experienced, religious men and women have got going right away to help the needy.

Sister Lie asked for a leave-of-absence from her executive post on the KOPTARI (a pan-Indonesian forum for religious superiors) in Jakarta to go to Nias. "I made myself available as a volunteer," she said, "and for this reason it was necessary and urgent that KOPTARI give me its permission".

She also appealed to the entire Catholic community, saying that "to succeed in the difficult task of helping these people who are suffering we need your prayers and support".

The nun said that a former classmate, Raymond Laia, who is a Capuchin and parish priest in Gunung Sitoli "made the rectory of his church available to many refugees".

She also explained that the convent of the Sisters of Charity of Our Lady Mother of Mercy was in good conditions, but that the nuns moved temporarily to "the safer convent of the Sisters of St Clare".

Protestants have also come to the rescue of quake victims. The Indonesian Communion of Churches has launched an urgent fund-raising drive on behalf of the population affected by the earthquake.