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 CNS Story:

TSUNAMI-CORUNUM Feb-1-2005 (480 words) With photos. xxxi

Vatican official says aid agencies show compassion, don't proselytize

By Stephen Steele
Catholic News Service

JAKARTA, Indonesia (CNS) -- Catholic aid agencies are working in overwhelmingly Islamic Aceh province as a way to show the church's compassion for victims and survivors of the tsunami disaster, a Vatican official said.

The church was not present in Aceh to proselytize or preach, but merely to help survivors heal emotionally and physically, Msgr. Giovanni Dal Toso, undersecretary of the Pontifical Council "Cor Unum," the Vatican's charity promotion and coordinating office, said Feb. 1 during a press conference in Jakarta.

A day earlier, Msgr. Dal Toso toured Aceh province, met with Catholic aid officials and viewed the devastation.

"It was important to be there and to see what has happened; but it is important also to see the positive response of so many people," he told Catholic News Service.

He said church workers in Aceh told him that Catholic aid agencies were working with their Muslim counterparts and that "there were no tensions" between church agencies and Indonesian government and Islamic leaders.

Msgr. Dal Toso toured Aceh in place of Archbishop Paul Cordes, the "Cor Unum" president and papal envoy to the tsunami-stricken region.

The monsignor said they were in Asia "to show the Holy Father's compassion for and attention to the suffering people of Indonesia." Archbishop Cordes traveled to Indonesia, but was too sick to travel to Aceh or participate in the press conference.

The Vatican delegation was later scheduled to visit Sri Lanka. Following the press conference, the delegation met with Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono.

Msgr. Dal Toso said the Catholic response to the disaster was threefold: a global groundswell of financial support from Catholics, a concrete presence of many Catholic aid agencies in the stricken areas, and prayers that those affected would "overcome this tragedy, not just from a material point of view, but from a spiritual point of view."

During the press conference, he stressed the importance of the Catholic Church's work in areas of conflict and disasters. The work of Catholic aid agencies and missionaries answers the church's Gospel call of "love for everyone, especially the poor and suffering people," he said.

Sri Lankan Archbishop Albert Malcolm Ranjith Patabendige Don, Vatican nuncio to Indonesia, told the press conference that those responding to the disaster must put aside their differences to help survivors recover.

"We must become one and help those people in need," said the archbishop, who had two cousins killed by tsunamis in Sri Lanka.

Also participating in the press conference was Cardinal Julius Darmaatmadja of Jakarta, who said Indonesian Catholics and Muslims have co-existed for many years and will work closely to help the victims in Aceh.

The press conference was held at the headquarters of the Indonesian political party Pengurus Besar Nahdlatul Ulama, whose chairman, Hasyim Muzadi, said the response by aid agencies to the victims in Aceh was not a religious matter.

END


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