06/03/2008, 00.00
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Pope’s and world’s solidarity help us go on, says Burmese bishop

At the end of the ad limina visit the bishop of Pathein talks to AsiaNews about the efforts of the Burmese Church to help cyclone victims. More than a million survivors have not received any aid as the junta deploys troops along the border.

Yangon (AsiaNews) – In Myanmar at least 60 per cent of the 2.4 million survivors of cyclone Nargis have not yet received any aid; yet the government has decided to reopen schools in the affected areas despite the lack of security and proper sanitary conditions for pupils who have to attend the heavily damaged school facilities. In the meantime ten days after junta strongman Than Shwe pledged to open unconditionally the country to foreign rescue workers, humanitarian agencies still complain that they face obstacles in reaching the disaster zone. Indeed “access remains a continuing challenge,” Paul Risley, a spokesman for the United Nations World Food Program, said.

As a show of openness the military regime has increased troop deployments along the coastline and the border with Thailand. According to Burmese defence experts the generals are concerned of a possible unauthorised humanitarian intervention by the international community.

In this humanitarian catastrophe against which the West can do very little, the small Burmese Church continues to work ceaseless to bring aid to the victims, carrying out an extenuating mission with limited means but “which we can do thanks to the strength that the solidarity of so many people abroad and the closeness of the Holy Father give us,” said 55-year-old Mgr John Hsane Hgyi, bishop of Pathein, who spoke to AsiaNews.

At the end of the Ab Limina Apostolurom visit by Burmese prelates, the head of one of the two most affected dioceses said that in the various meetings with the Pope last week, the Pontiff “expressed to us his great concern for our people, saying how sad he was upon hearing about the delays in aid delivery, reassuring us about his prayers.”

“We also met many people from various walks of life, and their solidarity encourages us to go ahead,” he said.

In Pathein, which is located in the Irrawaddy Delta region, the diocese has set up five camps now housing 5,000 refugees.

“There is an urgent need for medicines and food. Many people are getting sick from the lack of clean water,” Mgr John Hsane Hgyi said. Moreover, “it is hard to get to the villages and move out survivors who do not want to leave their meagre belongings behind.”

The bishops’ conference of Burma sent a letter to the authorities officially asking for greater openness towards foreign aid workers and the indispensable aid they bring.

“When such disasters strike, the faith wavers and people start asking where was God?” the prelate said. “But in this destruction some small miracles occur, like the great solidarity and courage shown by the Burmese people towards their fellow brothers in difficulty.”

The diocese of Pathein has a membership of 75,000 in an area with a population of four million people.

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