Java: churches in Pantura lead help efforts for flood victims
by Mathias Hariyadi
Dozens of volunteers have left every day to help people affected by the fury of nature delivering basic necessities. Lunar New Year Masses celebrated by local Chinese Catholics provide an opportunity to raise funds. Bishop of Purwokerto expressed joy for the response.

Java (AsiaNews) - In order to help people affected by recent severe floods, the Diocese of Purwokerto has opened a crisis centre sending dozens of volunteers every day to the affected areas.

People on the northern coastline of Java (better known as Pantura), mostly non-Christian ethnic Chinese, appreciate Catholic involvement, taking part in a Mass organised to celebrate the Lunar New Year.

Named after Saint Luke, the "centre is temporary for now," the local parish priest, Fr Mardi Usmanto Pr, told AsiaNews. "It was set up to meet the basic needs of the local people. Rain has flooded thousands of homes, and many people have fled the affected areas. Our non-professional volunteers are all parishioners, mostly ethnic Chinese. We bring food, blankets, and drinking water."

At the priest's invitation, parishioners have been in contact with Catholics from other areas. "The response has been moving. We sent messages to parishes in Pekalongan, Purwokerto, Tegal, and Semarang as well as to the dioceses of Bandung, Cibubur, Cirebon and Jakarta. All responded in a few hours, sending basic necessities and money, which we are now distributing."

On Saturday, volunteers from the Catholic centre visited the village of Pedagung, devastated by the fury of nature. "Rain flooded more than 300 homes, and the bridges have collapsed," Fr Mardi Usmanto said. "We are talking about 400 people who have become isolated and are in urgent need for help. We must hurry."

The priest is not alone in this battle. The parish priest at Santa Maria de Fatima Church in the Diocese of Purwokerto celebrated two Masses especially for Chinese Lunar Year (Imlek in Indonesian).

Special fundraisers were also conducted for flood victims with the faithful, mostly ethnic Chinese, ensuring the event's success. "We prayed for them and for donations, which will be sent to those in need," the local priest, Fr Martin Ngarlan Pr, told AsiaNews.

People from other Christian communities as well as representatives of other religions also attended. This was a good opportunity for Chinese Catholics to show their sense of responsibility and solidarity to their fellow citizens.

The St Peter Parish in Pekalongan, also in Pantara, undertook a similar initiative. Three local priests - Frs Maryoto Pr, Sheko Swandi Pr and Tri Kusuma Pr - conducted a Mass and organised a fundraiser for Imlek. "This is the right time for the Church to organise useful things for people on the ground," Fr Tri Kusuma Pr said.

Mgr Julius Sunarko SJ, bishop of Purwokerto, welcomed with joy all these activities. he was "happy," he said, to learn that parishes in Pantura were helping flood victims.