01/17/2006, 00.00
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Church helps flood victims

by Benteng Reges

521 people are still missing after floods in early January which killed 76 people and left thousands living in emergency shelters. Local Catholics have thrown themselves into collecting and distributing emergency relief items and organising psychological support for survivors.

Jember (AsiaNews) – The Church of St Joseph is "full of parishioners enthusiastically helping people stricken by floods on 2 January, distributing food, medicine and blankets," said Fr Jack Hugo Susdiyanto O'Carm. The parish priest of the church (which forms part of Malang Diocese) said that "immediately after the tragedy", a group of volunteers came together from the parish, collected material to distribute and started to clear mud which had flooded the land, more than a metre deep.

An inter-faith relief post was set up by local church people to collect people's donations. The Nahdlatul Ulama, the country's largest Muslim organisation, is helping to disseminate donated goods among victims, currently living in tents set up to cope with the emergency.

"We are helping more than 1,000 people living in these temporary settlements," said the parish priest. "We visit them to monitor their condition." Alongside the parishioners, several Catholic organizations are lending a hand, among them the Catholic Women of the Republic of Indonesia, which established a large field temporary kitchen in the church compound, to provide hot food for victims and volunteers.

After the initial emergency phase, rehabilitation of shaken victims became the next pressing problem to resolve and Fr Susdiyanto sounded out the availability of psychologists in the area, who said they were ready to help soothe the trauma provoked by the floods.

Similar work has been carried out by Catholics of St Anthony's Church in Banjarnegara regency (central Java). Here, parishioners, led by the parish priest Martin Maryoto, went to help residents of Sierra Village, where landslides caused by rain killed 76 people on 4 January; 521 residents are still missing. The church – which belongs to Purwokerto diocese – was on the frontline only hours after the disaster occurred, gathering emergency aid items from local Catholics and undertaking a relief programme in agreement with the local authorities.

"Donations have been abundant," said Fr Maryoto. "But my parishioners will focus on giving displaced people homes." The Indonesian Bishops of Conference (KWI) has also committed itself this endeavour:  Fr Stephen Bijanto, Socio-Economic Development Commission Executive Director, said his office has allocated funds for relocation of survivors.

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