Church wants to help quake-hit population
by Prakash Dubey

Fr Alex Gurung said the Church is always ready to intervene to help the people. But "missionaries are not allowed. The government fears conversions but we only want to serve everyone, rising above religion."

Thimpu (AsiaNews) – "Although the Church is not allowed to work in Bhutan, we are always ready to help the people of this small state in natural or other crises," said Fr Alex Gurung. Fr Gurung, secretary to Bishop Stephen Lepcha of India's Darjeeling diocese, was speaking to AsiaNews about the earthquake which hit Bhutan yesterday. Darjeeling diocese also covers this small Himalayan state.

"The magnitude of the earthquake was fortunately moderate. Any further increase could be perilous for this mountainous country," said Fr Gurang. "We have received no information of any loss of life. Of course, there are reports about some damage to houses. But thank God, the damage is not colossal. Still we are ready to rush relief to Bhutan if there is a demand."

Fr Gurung further said Jesuit missionaries have been the "architects of modern education in Bhutan. But now Catholic priests have been shunned, they are no longer welcome, because the authorities fear we may court the Buddhist people to convert them to Christianity. But their fears are unfounded. The Church does not aspire to convert anyone: its only mission is to serve all, rising above religion."

The land of Bhutan was shaken yesterday morning at 6.55 local time. The authorities noted that the quake registered 5.7 magnitude on the Richter scale. The epicentre was located at latitude 27.7 degree north and longitude 88.8 degree east in the neighbouring Indian state of  Sikkim.

 An eyewitness, Devendra Ghimire, who is a Bhutanese of Nepalese origin and a food grain merchant, witnessed the quake. He told AsiaNews: "It lasted for around 40 seconds in two phases. I was seated and at a certain point, the house started to shake. Thousands of people fled from their homes because of the quake."