06/20/2008, 00.00
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To rebuild churches destroyed by the earthquake

In quake zone 14 of the diocese’s 56 churches were destroyed; 27 others were severely damaged. Catholics are raising funds to help affected dioceses in Sichuan. Groups of Catholic volunteers get involved in providing emergency aid to the population.

Chengdu (AsiaNews) – The diocese of Chengdu has set up a Rehabilitation Office to handle quake-hit Church's reconstruction work a month after the 8.0-magnitude earthquake struck. Meanwhile Catholic volunteers from various parts of China continue their work helping survivors.

According to a news report by UCANews Chengdu priests, nuns, seminarians and parish lay leaders held a meeting on 11 June after working for a month amid the rubble to bring emergency aid to survivors. In this first gathering they drew up a rehabilitation programme. Religious Affairs and provincial Catholic Patriotic Association officials were also present.

As of June 17, China's State Council had reported 69,172 people dead, 374,159 injured and 17,420 missing.

Fr Simon Li Zhigang, diocesan administrator in Chengdu, told the meeting that 14 of the diocese 56 churches had completely or partially collapsed, and 27 others were severely damaged. He estimated property damage or loss at nearly 80 million yuan (US$ 12 million).

As of June 10, he said, 37 Christians (all lay people) were known to have died in the quake, but the greatest problem was the scattering of Catholic families as a result of displacement.

Summer activities were thus cancelled and in some parishes where churches are unsafe, Mass and religious activities have been suspended until the Feast of the Assumption, on 15 August, a major Catholic festival on the mainland.

The most pressing priority is how to fund rehabilitation. Under existing rules, the diocese should draw up a list of damages and submit it to the Religious Affairs Office, but the government rarely helps Churches financially.

Other dioceses are raising funds for the damaged churches and to meet the needs of the diocese of Chengdu.

The Catholic organisation Jinde (Shijazhuan) was able to hand out 6,000 tents to survivors.

The diocese of Xian organised a nursing service in the city’s hospitals for the constant stream of wounded coming from the epicentre.

A group of volunteers is being sent to Sichuan, Hanzhong and Gansu to help survivors directly with the distribution of food, drugs and medical aid.

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