05/12/2011, 00.00
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Sichuan: Catholics remember quake victims in front of churches waiting to be rebuilt

by Jian Mei
The anniversary is officially remembered in Beichuan near the epicentre of the 2008 quake. Moments of silence and prayers mark the event. In Chengdu Diocese, 25 churches out of 59 must be rebuilt; another 22 need major repairs. However, the lack of funds is slowing the reconstruction process. Chinese priest says that spiritual reconstruction is also important.
Chengdu (AsiaNews) – Catholics in quake-hit areas in Sichuan province and other places in China have prayed today, the third anniversary of the 8-magnitude earthquake that killed tens of thousands.

A government-organised public memorial was held in the town of Beichuan, near the epicentre, to commemorate the victims. Many people called for a minute of silence on their own or via the Internet. Some parents mourned their children at the sites of collapsed schools.

Fr Pan Hong’en, parish priest of Guangyuan, Chengdu diocese (Sichuan), told AsiaNews that, after three years, Catholics in quake-affected places need to face various challenges. He also said that they continue their faith training during the heavy tasks of church rebuilding. In fact, new baptisms were carried out in his parishes at Easter this year.

“Although we still celebrate Masses in wooden-planks makeshift chapels near the damaged churches, we thank God for the unity and care Catholics in and outside the Church have shown us,” he said.

Father Pan explained that in his parishes in Guangyuan area, one of the areas hardest hit by the 2008 quake, four damaged churches must be rebuilt.

His parishioners plan a candlelight prayer tonight and a memorial service tomorrow, he said, noting that the “relatives and families of some Catholics died in the quake, and some lost most of their properties”.

Rebuilding and repairing damaged churches have been slow, though affected residents are now moving into new settlements and rebuilt houses, Fr Zhang Yiqiang of Pengzhou parish told AsiaNews.

He said he celebrated two Masses today, one in the morning and the other at 2.28 pm, which marks the moment when the earthquake struck in 2008. He especially chose the Bailu town church, which collapsed completely, as the site for today’s Masses.

“Spiritual restoration is also very important for local residents, who are now mostly resettled in new houses and have new jobs,” he said.

The rebuilding and repairs of the three churches in his parish have been slow, mainly due to insufficient funds, Fr Zhang explained. Only the rebuilding of the Annunciation Seminary Church (Bailu College), a state-monument, is in progress as it is handled by the government.

In addition, in his parish, wooden makeshift chapels have been built for regular Masses and religious activities. However, “Without a stable church, pastoral work is difficult to launch,” he said. “The most important thing for parishioners is to have community activities, and now it is hard to coordinate,” he explained.

Of the 59 churches in Chengdu diocese, 22 were badly damaged by the earthquake, and 25 have to be rebuilt. Some local priests reportedly have had to stay with local residents or in temporary housing.

The devastating earthquake killed 68,636 people and wounded 360,000. An additional 17,516 are missing. A large number of public facilities, infrastructure and houses were destroyed.

Schoolchildren in quake-affected areas now take part in regular earthquake evacuation and fire escape drills, thus raising disaster and self-protection awareness among students and teachers.

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