10/02/2009, 00.00
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Pope prays for quake victims in Indonesia as Church continues its aid work

The Bishops’ Conference of Vietnam is raising funds. Filipino bishops are donating offerings for displaced people. Evacuation begins for people threatened by tropical storm Parma. Xaverian missionary tells AsiaNews about the emergency in Sumatra where homes and schools have collapsed. Local Catholic hospital is working overtime despite major damages.
Padang (AsiaNews) – The Pope is praying for the victims of the Indonesian earthquake and is encouraging rescue workers and all those who are involved in providing emergency assistance to the victims of this disaster to persevere in their efforts, this according to the telegram signed by Secretary of State Card Tarcisio Bertone. The Holy Father has also invoked “eternal rest” upon the deceased and divine strength and “consolation on all who are suffering”.

In the meantime, the emergency situation in South-East caused by the earthquake in West Sumatra and typhoon Ketsana in the Philippines, Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia continues. In response, the Catholic Church has launched a number of initiatives to help the population, including fund raising and the collection of basic emergency items.

In Manila, the authorities have issued a new warning because another typhoon, Parma, which is fast approaching and scheduled to hit land in a few hours. Residents of the Camarines on the east side of the archipelago are already being evacuated.

In Vietnam, where typhoon Ketsana killed more than 100 people, the Bishops’ Conference launched an appeal for the victims and for “hundreds of thousands” of people who could soon be without food.

Vietnamese Catholics are opening their shrines and places of worship to house the homeless, including Buddhists monks and nuns expelled by police from their temple. The parish of Thanh Duc, in Danang, is taking in refugees and housing them in classrooms used for catechisms, and providing them with food.

Caritas Vietnam has already set aside funds for displaced people. Some US$ 6,000 has been sent to the Archdiocese of Hue and the dioceses of Da Nang and Kon Tum, which are among the hardest hit areas.  The money is being used to buy food and other essential supplies.  

Mgr Nguyen Van Nhon, bishop of Da Lat and president of the Bishops’ Conference, has called for “prayers and aid for the victims”. The prelate also sent a letter of condolences to Mgr Angel Lagdameo, president of the Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines, expressing “solidarity and support” for the sister Church.

In Indonesia, the race against time to save thousands of people still buried alive under tonnes of rubbles continues. So far, the quake has killed 1,100 people, injuring an additional 2,400.

In Padang, the “natural” epicentre of the quake because of its location on the ring of fire, the situation is desperate.

Fr Fernando Abis, a Xaverian missionary of Italian origin, told AsiaNews that a “school collapsed” with 50 pupils inside.

Rubbles are an obstacle to rescue operations and heavy duty equipment is unable to remove them. “A hotel collapsed with two convention halls full of people,” the missionary said. “At least 200 people are still missing.”

“Only emergency teams are authorised to move in;” civilians are held back to avoid further mayhem, Father Abis said.

Muslims and Christians are helping the victims without distinctions. “Everyone is trying to take in the homeless who are now without a roof,” he explained.

“The hospital built by the Catholic Church was severely damaged, but continues to function, working overtime. Despite difficulties, we are trying to meet every demand. Half of the doctors are Catholic, the other half, Muslim. We are all working side by side to help the population. The facility is run by father Laruffa who, despite his age (80) and bypass surgery, is working tirelessly to receive the injured.”

The Church is not only dealing with emergency situation; it is already planning for the future, for the reconstruction, when people will go back to normal life.

“We are looking for tents that can hold 20 people to continue school for the kids,” he told AsiaNews. About 30 per cent of residents have lost their homes and in a few days food supplies will run out, but the government’s reaction was immediate.”

The government in Jakarta has allocated 100 billion rupiahs (US$ 10.36 million) in aid for the victims.

Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono has called for a quick and timely response to the emergency. He also warned that any embezzlement by relief agencies would be punished.  

In the Philippines, which are still reeling from typhoon Ketsana, people are preparing for Parma, a tropical storm experts expect to pack an even bigger punch. To this effect, the authorities have begun evacuating residents from the Camarines.

The government estimates the storm has cost already around US$ 50 million, affecting almost 1.9 million people, including 375,000 who have had to abandon their homes and take shelter in evacuation centres set up by the government.

Many prelates are taking part in fund raising campaigns and collections of basic items and food for the victims. Material aid is being collected during religious functions to support assistance programmes for the population.

The Asian Development Bank (ADB) has pledged US$ 3 million in support of emergency relief efforts. These will go to purchase medical supplies, drinking water and essential emergency items.

(Mathias Hariyadi, J.B. An Dang and Santosh Digal contributed to this article)

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