Earthquake survivors select clothes from a relief material delivery near Gorkha, Nepal, May 1. CNS photo/Narendra Shrestha, EPA

Resilient Nepalis will rebuild, Jesuit says

  • May 8, 2015

The April 25 earthquake that killed more than 8,000 and left close to 15,000 injured was bad, but “it could have been terribly, terribly worse,” said Canadian Jesuit Father Bill Robins.

“One thing about Nepalis is that they are very resilient,” Robins, who has been a science teacher and a pastor based in Kathmandu since 1977, told The Catholic Register by phone from Kathmandu. “They will put up with this. They will get things rebuilt.”

The Jesuit community in Nepal, begun with Canadian missionaries in 1951 but today consisting of mostly Indian priests, has provided 150 families in villages outside the capital city with tents, mats and food, while 200 families have found shelter in two Jesuit schools.

The Jesuits themselves were spared any losses by “a blessed coincidence,” said Robins. The entire Jesuit community was in a village seven hours drive east of Kathmandu, delighting in the ordination of the first-ever Nepali-born Jesuit priest. As the celebrations went on after the Mass, villagers were all outside.

“So nobody was at home. Nobody was in crummily built buildings that fell down. That saved lives, I’m sure,” said Robins.

The epicentre of the quake was west of Kathmandu, making it much less violent in the eastern village where the Jesuits were staying. But even there, the earthquake and first aftershock were massive events.

“I’ve never been as scared as I was in that earthquake, and then the main aftershock the next day was also frightening,” said Robins.

The drive back to Kathmandu was full of anxiety for the Jesuits.

“We didn’t know what we were going back to.”

But Robins was relieved when he finally did see home.

“I mean there was damage, no question about that. But it wasn’t as bad as it could have been.”

The worst damage was to the oldest of the Jesuit houses, where the first missionaries lived in 1951.

“It deserves to fall down,” said Robins.

The rest can be repaired.

But it isn’t repairs to their own chapels and houses that the Jesuits are worried about. As Canadian Jesuits International begins collecting funds for rebuilding, Robins and his community are looking forward to directing it to help poor families outside Kathmandu, where the needs are greatest.

“We’re going to use it (money from CJI) for rehabilitation work — helping some people get their schools rebuilt, getting maybe a chapel here or there rebuilt in our Christian communities. We’ve got a community in the north end of Dhading District with several hundred Catholics there — really poor herding people and they really got hammered,” he said.

But the Jesuit approach goes far beyond helping their own in the Hindu-majority country. The Jesuits are directing their resources wherever they can help, regardless of religion.

“Here’s a chance for us to show our faith, to serve,” he said. “The Church is doing that strongly.”

Robins has faith in the Nepali people and their ability to build again, better than before.

“We will be a little more prepared for earthquakes,” he said. “We understand what duck, cover and hold means now.”

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