Prabin Shresta, a member of a Salesian relief team called Nepal Don Bosco Society, provides a snack to earthquake survivors April 26. Inclement weather and logistical pressures have slowed down relief for Nepal earthquake victims. CNS photo/courtesy of Salesian Missions

Pope prays for Nepal quake victims, sends donation, urges solidarity

By  Carol Glatz, Catholic News Service
  • April 29, 2015

VATICAN CITY - Santosh Kumar Magar said he was attending the ordination of a new priest in Okhaldhunga, a remote part of eastern Nepal, when the devastating magnitude-7.8 earthquake hit April 25.

“I came out of the room, and saw two, three houses falling down around me,” said the 29-year-old Magar. “Some of the animals died around the same time. The people were saved because all the villagers were gathered for the ordination.”

A boy, identified as Ahmed, who was staying at the Assumption Church in Kathmandu with his family, said he “felt as if I was flying because my elder brother dragged (me) from the house to the street.”

“We came to the church because we know a lot of people here so we can be together and co-ordinate and help each other out.

Now later I feel everything is going to be all right,” he told Caritas.

They were among the lucky ones. Thousands have been killed and that toll is expected to rise as rescue teams tried to make their way into more remote areas.

More than 5,000 people were known to have died (as of The Register’s press deadline) and an estimated one million people were left homeless after the earthquake hit a mountainous region near Kathmandu. The devastation included not just buildings collapsing from the tremors, but also people and villages being buried by landslides and avalanches triggered by the quake and aftershocks.

Pope Francis was quick to respond to Nepal’s misery, offering his prayers to all of those affected by the deadly earthquake, encouraging rescue and emergency workers in their efforts while sending an initial donation of $100,000 to help in the recovery.

“I pray for the victims, those wounded and for all those who suffer because of this calamity,” Pope Francis said after reciting the “Regina Coeli” prayer with visitors gathered in St. Peter’s Square April 26.

Before leading people in praying the Hail Mary together, he expressed his hope that those affected by the disaster would “have the support of fraternal solidarity.”

The Pontifical Council Cor Unum, which promotes and co-ordinates charitable giving, announced April 28 that Pope Francis had sent “a first contribution of $100,000” to assist the victims. The money, it said, “which will be sent to the local Church, will be used to support the assistance efforts underway on behalf of the displaced” and others impacted by the quake.

The papal donation is meant to be “a first and immediate concrete expression” of the Pope’s personal concern for all the quake’s victims, Cor Unum said, adding that bishops’ conferences and Catholic charities from around the world, including Canada, already have taken an active role in helping survivors.

“Pope Francis was deeply saddened to learn of the earthquake” and the damage it caused, said a telegram sent April 25 by Cardinal Pietro Parolin, Vatican secretary of state, to Bishop Paul Simick, apostolic vicar of Nepal.

The Pope expressed his prayers and solidarity, and “he offers encouragement to the civil authorities and emergency personnel as they continue their rescue efforts and assistance to those touched by this tragedy,” the telegram said.

Huge “tent cities” have sprung up in Kathmandu to shelter those whose homes have collapsed or been damaged and those who dare not return as strong aftershocks continue, Caritas Internationalis reported in a press release April 27.

“We hope to go back to our house soon, but are hesitating because of the aftershocks,” said Renuka Magdalene Thakuri, 54, who sought shelter with other families in Assumption Church in Kathmandu.

Ingo Radtke is the secretary general of Malteser International, a humanitarian relief agency of the Order of Malta. A response team form Malteser International arrived in Kathmandu on April 27 to assess the situation on the ground.

“The most important thing that they told us is to send medics, send drugs, send equipment, but don’t send too many people,” said Radtke. “The worst thing you can do is send too many people which will become an extra burden to an already damaged and fragile system.”

Most of the help is coming by planes arriving every 10 minutes, concentrating efforts in Kathmandu, but the team has not been able to reach the remote areas and smaller villages nearby.

Communication in the region is still difficult, but Radtke said it is important to keep close contact with those on the ground.

“We always have to be in contact with local people and local partners so that the people on the ground can tell us what is available and what is not available,” said Radtke. “It’s not a question of whether we want to send volunteers or not... looking at what the damaged infrastructure can absorb and what can they do on their own.”

So far, Jenny Cafiso, director of Canadian Jesuits International, said that the Jesuits in Kathmandu are fine. There is some structural damage to their schools, but they are generally unaffected.

“They’ve now opened up the schools for the students and for families in the surrounding areas,” said Cafiso. “They’ve been giving our tarpaulins to the families and some basic food items.”

Immediate shelter as well as water and sanitation were among the top priorities, Caritas Internationalis said.

So far, Caritas organizations around the world have pledged $3.3 million as well as 10,000 shelter kits and 3,000 tarps.

In Canada, efforts are being made to raise funds to help recovery efforts. In Toronto, ShareLife has initiated a campaign to raise funds. Donations can be made on the Archdiocese of Toronto web site, archtoronto.org, by phone at (416) 934-3411 or through your parish, making cheques payable to (parish name) — Nepal Earthquake — Humanitarian Relief. Development and Peace is also raising funds through its web site, devp.org.

The Canadian government will match, dollar for dollar, donations made by Canadians until May 25.

(With files from Jean Ko Din.)

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