12/29/2003, 00.00
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Iranian bishops and faithful make efforts to help quake victims

An interview with Msgr. Angelo Mottola, apostolic nuncio to Tehran

Tehran (AsiaNews) – The few thousand Catholics living in Iran have begun raising funds and collecting medicine to be sent to victims of the earthquake that hit Bam in the province of Kerman last Friday, Msgr. Angelo Mottola, apostolic nuncio to Tehran, told AsiaNews.

The updated figures refer to at least 30,000 victims. But in the Bam area, where the quake leveled the ancient city, there are no Christians. Msgr. Mottola said: "There are no Christians, yet we have many friends (there). And unfortunately there is no way to get in touch with them. Even cell phones don't work, and I am worried, since I still haven't had any word as to whether these friends are alive or dead."

Msgr. Mottola has been in Tehran for nearly 4 years. "The situation is really on the brink of desperation," he said. "Hence, as soon as we became aware of the disaster, on Saturday Dec. 27, we called a meeting of Catholic Church bishops and decided to help the people of Bam as much as we could."

As of yesterday, Sunday Dec. 28, Catholics in all of Iran's churches and parishes began a fundraising campaign for the quake victims. The Iranian Catholic community is extremely small: around 16,000 out of a total population of 62 million inhabitants are Catholic. In the past, especially during the Khomeini regime, the Church didn't have an easy life. Currently, relations are improving between the Church and Iran under president Khatami. Yesterday the Catholic Church donated 100 million rials (approx. US 12,500) to the government. "The amount is not large, however it is the first sign of closeness and solidarity (we share) with our brothers and sisters," said the nuncio.

"We have also asked Caritas Internationalis to contribute to this cause, as an most important act of human solidarity. The situation is quite frightening. In addition to the tragedy of deaths, there are survivors are in need of help in the form of food, medicine, tents, (and) blankets … They have nothing, while living and sleeping in this desert area. Travel to the region is also made difficult. To reach the disaster area there is only a small airport and a single desert road."

Many charitable organizations have already responded to the appeal, including Dutch and German charities as well as Caritas Internationalis. This morning in Tehran representatives arrived from Sécours Catholique, a French charity. The charities have allocated 50,000 euro each. The sum goes partly to fulfill emergency needs (blankets, food, medicine, etc.) and partly to rebuilding the Bam area, which was 80% destroyed.   

Prior to Sunday's Angelus, John Paul II appealed to Catholics and international communities around the globe and to show their solidarity for the earthquake victims. "I am comforted by the Holy Father's appeal for the Bam quake victims, said Msgr. Mottola. "I really hope the world and especially Christians accept his urgent call."

Even other Christian communities in Iran, like Orthodox and Protestant Christians, are collecting vital emergency goods, such as blankets and clothes, to be sent to earthquake victims.

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