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JAPAN-BISHOPS (SECOND UPDATE) Mar-17-2011 (560 words) With photos and graphics. xxxi

Japanese bishops to set up center to coordinate operations in Sendai

By Catholic News Service

ROME (CNS) -- Japanese church officials are setting up an emergency center to coordinate humanitarian aid operations in Sendai, the area most devastated by the March 11 earthquake and tsunami.

Bishop Martin Tetsuo Hiraga of Sendai and the diocesan chancellor, Father Peter Shiro Komatsu will be the director and vice director of the center, and a Caritas worker will be stationed there to coordinate aid work, reported the Asian church news agency UCA News. Clergy and laypeople from other dioceses may also join the work.

The center is expected to operate for six months, UCA News reported.

Father Komatsu said gasoline is the most needed commodity.

"Since there is shortage of petroleum and roads are blocked by debris, we have difficulties (reaching) affected areas outside Sendai city," he said.

Father Komatsu said March 17 that he had begun contacting several downtown parishes to find rooms for the displaced quake victims and added that the church might offer shelter to relief workers.

The diocese had not yet received information about the coastal churches due to disrupted telecommunications.

Father Daisuke Narui, executive director of Caritas Japan, also attended the mid-March meeting.

"The biggest buildings in Sendai withstood the very strong earthquake. The greatest damage was caused by the tsunami. The panorama of destruction is striking. Now we'll have to roll up our shirt sleeves. People are expecting our help," said.

Father Narui said he was encouraged by the enthusiasm of Japanese youth offering to help the displaced.

"Young people are continually coming to Caritas from all the dioceses to offer their availability as volunteers to bring aid to the areas most affected by the disaster," the priest told Fides, news agency of the Vatican's Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples. "This is an important sign that gives us hope for the future."

"Today the dominant feeling is fear," Father Narui said. "The biggest concern is that of the nuclear power plant in Fukushima. It is a ghost from Japanese history coming back to haunt us. But it must be said that the people are not indulging in panic; instead, they are reacting with poise and dignity."

He said although many people had been evacuated and others were being asked to stay in their homes, "in the worst-affected areas the main problem is the lack of food and fuel. As there is no fuel, people cannot move. And they are left feeling powerless in the face of this tragedy."

After the magnitude 9 earthquake, reactors at the Fukushima plant were hit by explosions, and Japanese officials were working to avoid leakage of radiation. They ordered evacuations for hundreds of thousands of people.

Earlier, Bishop Hiraga told Vatican Radio that many area residents, cut off without electricity and with some phone service just restored, were unaware of the worsening situation at the Fukushima plant.

"You living in other countries have a much better idea of the tragedy," the bishop told Vatican Radio.

"We are terrified," the bishop said. "We only have the government announcements, we have no other source of information. We don't even know what has happened to our parishes in the towns and villages along the coast. We have no way of contacting them. I can only hope that the people of my diocese can stand together and be strong enough to overcome this disaster."

Japanese officials estimate at least 13,000 people died in the disaster.


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