01/07/2005, 00.00
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Thai Catholics start reconstruction after the tsunami

Surat Thani Bishop has a plan to help the population. Men and women religious are providing help to the victims, especially the children, and aid in restarting the local economy.

Phuket (AsiaNews) – The Catholic Church has started the process of reconstruction of the tsunami-stricken areas. This is being done through a catholic committee chaired by Mgr Joseph Praphan Sridarunsil, Bishop of Surat Thani, and coordinate by Fr Angelo Campagnoli, PIME missioner in Thailand for the past 23 years. It plans to achieve short-term goals and long-term objectives with local involvement.

Providing food, medicines, clothing and temporary shelters are on the committee's must-do-now list. For this, it is trying to salvage any non-perishable food and cooking utensils and is expected to spend € 500 (US$ 65) on the average per household.

Rebuilding the infrastructure and jump-starting the local economy are long-term goals that the Church intends to achieve by building housing units worth € 3,000 (US$ 4,000) and providing fishermen with small boats and fishing equipment. Overall, each household will receive aid worth € 4,000 (US$ 5,500). Another € 4,000 will go to store owners so that they can get back on their feet. School-age children will each receive € 100 (US$ 135) for books, notebooks, uniforms and shoes to go back to school.

Land laid waste by the tsunami waters will also be rehabilitated. Roads and streets will be rebuilt whilst water-logged soil will be drained to prevent the spread of infectious diseases. For the time being, cost estimates are not available and will be determined as work gets underway.

In the meantime, missioners continue their work in a country that is still mourning. There is no let up for them; they must celebrate funerals and share survivors' grief.

Rev Richard F. Woodarek is an example of what missioners are doing. A Stigmatine missioner who has offered pastoral care to Christian tourists for the past 46 years, he has had to celebrate a funeral for an American who lost his life whilst on vacation in Phuket and whose remains, after his body was cremated at the seaport, were brought to the Assumption Church for the blessing. Then, he took part in a cremation ceremony in a Buddhist temple in memory of the mother of a pupil attending a catholic school in Phuket. This, after many days during which he celebrated several memorial masses for the tsunami victims.

Children were particularly traumatised by the tsunami but they can count on the indefatigable work of local nuns. A case in point is that of Nid, a girl so touched by what happened that she lost any hope in life. To help her, Sister Cecilia, a nun from the Camillian congregation in Rajchaburi, is using a technique called 'memory healing'.

"First of all, I let her set her mind at ease and then ask her to recall any past memories that make her happy," the Sister explained.

Since she started the treatment the girl has improved and said she was going to continue she was "fully recovered".

Another Camillian nun, Sr Rosa Supa, told AsiaNews that "everything is close to normal.  What we are now doing is to co-operate with government officials, village-chiefs and headmen to make sure that relief is provided to all."

Fr Peter Pakpoom Vorapornthtsana, director of Phuket's Dao Roong Wittaya School, said "58 [his] students [were] affected by the Tsunami, some lost their parents, and many of them are coming to school without their uniforms or books. So in the first stage the school will provide them with what they need."

Muslims represent 25 per cent of all the school body; Buddhists are 65 per cent. Their parents can no longer fish because their boats are gone and must now survive selling souvenirs along Patong beach.

A Catholic merchant, who lost everything, is now back in business after getting the insurance money.

This, Father Richard believes, is a sign of hope, a sign that when things go really bad and we suffer God is with us. (WK)

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