01/07/2005, 00.00
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After tsunami cynicism assails Christians, Muslims and Hindus

by Nirmala Carvalho
Many ask "Why God did this?" Priests and nuns work on reconstruction and body identification. Without prayers the real meaning of life is loss.

Thanjavur (AsiaNews) – Ten days after the tsunami hit the coast of India, the search for survivors continues in Valinkanni (Nagapattinam district, southern India). Relatives of the victims continue to arrive hoping to find someone still alive. Photos of the dead are taken before cremation or burial to make identification possible often becoming the last memento of lost ones.

Father Xavier, rector of the Marian shrine in Thanjavur, a town in Nagapattinam, and active in helping survivors, said that "many pilgrims, who make their annual pilgrimage to our shrine are still missing. We now have hundreds of relatives [. . .] coming to Valinkanni [asking] for any information about their lost loved ones."

Photos of unclaimed bodies can be viewed in a room in the shrine set aside for that purpose. "So far," Father Xavier said, "the Church administration has displayed over 400 photographs".

The photos have facilitated the identification the dead giving the authorities the possibility to release the necessary death certificates.

Relatives of the tsunami victims have been able to find loved ones . . . dead. The process has been painful. Many, after a last tour of the hospitals to check out the injured, come, wary, sometimes hoping against all hope, to look at the photos and finally resign themselves to the worse.

After identification, people, stun written on the face, can take a copy of the photo to the police station to get a death certificate.

In many, faith in God and salvation, which once anchored them against many difficult challenges, is now at risk. A certain cynicism is spreading among people.

According to Father Xavier, "the clergy is facing a big problem—how to keep the flock from another tide, that of cynicism". His response is prayer without which there "is no meaning to life".

For so many, Father Xavier noted, "the loss is irreparable and the shock runs deep. There is a kind of void in their expectations and it is very difficult [for them] to understand how a good God could punish his people in such a way, taking away so many lives".

"The clergy now has the task of instilling confidence," he stressed. "Man is not an animal. And we believe in the resurrection and cannot blame God".

In a mosque in a village close to Valinkanni, Kalifa Mohammad Sahib also urges more prayers. "Faith must not go away," he tells his fellow Muslims.

About 500 metres from the shore in Valinkanni stands a tiny temple dedicated to a local deity, Elliamman Koil, which came out of the ordeal relatively unscathed

"There is no God," said a woman who lost her four children, a sister and brother to the tsunami. "The entire village prayed daily," she said, "and performed the annual thiruvizha—a procession in which the idol is accompanied by music and dancing—and yet it turn its back on the people."

In Colachel, near Kanyakumari, Sister Mary told survivors camping in makeshift shelters that despite the tragedy "God will take care of them."

Recalling that fateful December 26, she said "the whole tragedy happened within minutes. So many of them are unable to remember what really happened."

In Cuddalore, one of Tamil Nadu hardest hit areas, schools reopened. Fr Arul Das, St. Joseph's principal, told AsiaNews that the "tragedy is written large on the faces of our children. They want to know: 'Why has God done this to us?' I have not been able to answer their questions. They have been psychologically traumatised".

"We hope that the school routine will be a small step in resuming a normal life, "he said. "Today, we did not begin any new work, it was largely group counselling in which children were encouraged to speak out and express their emotions."

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See also
Religious and caste discrimination in government aid distribution in Tamil Nadu
UN urges donors at Jakarta conference to give US$ 1bn for tsunami emergency
Hope is found in faith in Tamil Nadu tragedy
Small signs of things getting back to normal in Banda Ache and Meulaboh
Christians and Muslims pray for tsunami victims


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