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 CNS Story:

QUAKE-AID (SECOND UPDATE) Oct-11-2005 (890 words) With photos posted Oct. 10 and 11. xxxi

Pakistani prelate: Christians should give day's wages to quake relief

By Catholic News Service

LAHORE, Pakistan (CNS) -- The president of the Pakistani bishops' conference expressed his grief following the country's worst-ever earthquake and urged all Pakistani Christians to contribute one day's wages for relief aid.

Archbishop Lawrence Saldanha of Lahore, conference president, expressed his "profound shock and grief at the large-scale destruction of life and property caused by the great earthquake" that struck Pakistan, India and Afghanistan Oct. 8. He said prayers were offered in all Pakistani Catholic churches the next day for the eternal peace of the deceased and for the recovery of thousands of injured survivors, according to an Oct. 10 statement issued by his office.

"This was the greatest natural disaster in our country's history," he wrote, calling upon all Christians "to do their part" in relief efforts. He urged them to contribute one day's salary to the President's Relief Fund and announced a donation of 500,000 rupees (US$8,357) from the Pakistani Catholic Church, reported UCA News, an Asian church news agency based in Thailand.


The earthquake along the Pakistan-India border was magnitude 7.6. Its epicenter was near the town of Muzaffarabad, almost 60 miles northeast of Islamabad in Pakistani-controlled Kashmir.

Pakistani officials said Oct. 11 that the death toll from the earthquake would surpass 35,000 people, and tens of thousands are injured. Officials in India Oct. 11 reported a death toll of 1,300. Some news reports said up to 5 million people were homeless.

Father Sebastian Kalapura, principal of St. Joseph School in Baramula, in India's Jammu and Kashmir state, said the devastation is "very visible" in villages along road between Srinagar, India, and Muzaffarabad. The priest had accompanied the Caritas India team to Uri, one of the worst-hit areas on the Indian side of the Line of Control that divides Kashmir between India and Pakistan. The two nations established the line in 1972, after fighting over the disputed territory since they gained independence together in 1947.

Father Kalapura told UCA News Oct. 10 that assessing the damage is difficult, because rain and landslides blocked roads to interior villages. Army personnel were clearing the roads to reach those villages.

"We are trying to help people on two fronts -- health and shelter," Father Kalapura said. He said his school would erect tents for temporary housing and church workers planned to transport wounded quake survivors from villages to St. Joseph Hospital, which is attached to the school.

"We don't have doctors, so Caritas has promised to send a few doctors from New Delhi," Father Kalapura said.

Meanwhile, Catholic agencies abroad continued to pledge assistance. Initial contributions were pledged by various church organizations and dioceses, including $500,000 from Catholic Relief Services, the U.S. bishops' international relief and development agency. CRS, which has worked in South Asia for more than 50 years, said it planned to raise up to $5 million for longer-term recovery efforts.

The Canadian Catholic Organization for Development and Peace sent an initial contribution of $100,000 (US$85,000) for relief efforts in the devastated region.

The British bishops' Catholic Agency for Overseas Development pledged 100,000 pounds (US$176,000) to Caritas Pakistan to set up urgently required medical camps in the worst affected areas. The group also pledged the same amount to Islamic Relief.

Britain's Aid to the Church in Need responded with an initial grant of 17,000 pounds (US$29,300) for emergency relief with the promise of more long-term help to repair and rebuild the churches, rectories, convents and schools damaged in the quake.

Pakistani Bishop Anthony Lobo of Islamabad-Rawalpindi told members of Aid to the Church in Need that even though there were few Christians in the region affected by the earthquake, the church wanted to launch a large relief program aimed at all victims regardless of faith, racial origin and class.

Bishop Lobo reported that in the Pakistani capital, Islamabad, two school buildings were so badly cracked they might have to be destroyed. In Rawalpindi, the upper floor of a convent and the wing of a new church were badly damaged. The tower of St Michael's Church in Peshawar, close to the border of Afghanistan, was about to collapse, he said.

Caritas India, the social service agency of the Indian bishops, rushed a team from its headquarters in New Delhi to the Kashmir valley as the first step in preparing long-term assistance. The valley lies southeast of Muzaffarabad, the Pakistani town nearest the epicenter of the magnitude 7.6 quake. Several villages in the valley reportedly were flattened. Rescue teams had not reached many remote mountain villages even after 48 hours.

"Resources won't be an issue," Father Varghese Mattamana, deputy director of Caritas India, said Oct. 10. He said the church and its agencies "will remain engaged for the long term" in Kashmir.

Father Mattamana said the local church's services through schools and hospitals across Jammu and Kashmir, India's only Muslim-majority state, have created "tremendous good will" and a good network.

The initial focus will be on providing medicines and food for those affected, Father Mattamana said.

He said convents and other church institutions are already active in the field, and Caritas and others "would provide the assistance they require."

END


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