12/09/2008, 00.00
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Caritas Sri Lanka: tsunami aid, and a 40-year history

by Melani Manel Perera
The charitable organization of the Catholic Church has assisted almost 60,000 people struck by the tsunami. An example of the efforts of Caritas, which for 40 years has been working in favor of the population of the island, without distinction of caste or religion.

Colombo (AsiaNews) - More than 9,000 temporary shelters, more than 8,000 new homes, one hospital, 31 schools rebuilt, for a total of 1,600 students. These are the figures from some of the efforts of Caritas-SEDEC Sri Lanka, after the tsunami that struck the island in 2004.

Fr. Damian Fernando, director of the charitable organization of the local Catholic Church, four years after the disaster speaks of the work on behalf of the population of the country. After the initial suspicion for religious reasons, Caritas has won the respect and gratitude of many people. "We did our work without any considerations of caste or creed," explains Fr. Fernando. "Especially, we built up a rapport with people of other faiths, and promoted the interreligious dimension to show that we want to work together."

Efforts following the devastation brought by the tsunami have led to the completion of large-scale projects: homes, schools, roads. The number of beneficiaries of psychological and social work has exceeded 36,000, and basic assistance during and after the emergency has reached a total of 21,659. It is a work realized in the various provinces of the island struck by the disaster, and built on the decades of experience of Caritas Sri Lanka, which turns 40 years old in 2008.

Vianney Fernando, bishop of Kandy and president of the Sri Lankan bishops' conference, affirms that the experience of Caritas highlights that "it is not enough to respond to the symptoms of poverty, rather, we must respond to its causes. This is why we are involved in issues of justice and peace. Our main response to God's call is to be at the service of our neighbor. This is at the heart of the gospel message. Jesus said over and over again that we should love God and love our neighbor. Therefore, the Church looks after the poor and the marginalized, the widow and the orphan."

The bishop explains: "The inspiration and task of Caritas-SEDEC is to organise people, empowering them to be masters of their destiny." There are many areas of activity: education, small business support, help for the victims of war and for refugees. Bishop Vianney Fernando explains, "We are not simply a group of people in an organisation with a 40-year history, that has seen a war situation. Caritas was called upon to serve the war victims and those displaced by the war. And we still continue to look after them and help them."

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