Swift Catholic Responses to Tsunami in India

NEW YORK – Catholic dioceses in southern India responded rapidly after the 26 December tsunami that ravaged much of Southeast Asia, reported Thomas Varghese, Catholic Near East Welfare Association’s Regional Director for India, who is based in the city of Ernakulam in the southwestern state of Kerala.

The Roman Catholic Diocese of Kottar, in Tamil Nadu near the Kerala border, sheltered survivors in its schools and churches. Bishop Leon Tharmaraj is working closely with neighboring Syro-Malabar Catholic Bishop George Allencherry of Thuckalay, who sent priests and social workers to assist Bishop Leon, Mr. Varghese said. Though the full scale of the disaster is not yet known, Mr. Varghese reports that the bishops, whose dioceses were affected by the tsunami, are discussing plans for the rehabilitation of fishing villages, including the reconstruction of houses and the purchase of boats and nets, through an adopt-a-village program between the two dioceses.

Mr. Varghese also reported that the Malankara Social Service Society (MSSS), administered by the Syro-Malankara Catholic Archdiocese of Trivandrum (the capital of Kerala), has set up 94 refugee camps, housing some 100,000 persons. Father Jose Kizhakkedath, the society’s director, has indicated that food, water, clothing and medicines would be needed for at least three months. Volunteers, he stated, began work at five major camps the day after the tragedy. MSSS is coordinating its efforts with relief programs offered by other aid organizations, Mr. Varghese added.

Grief counseling will also be provided while the Bethany Sisters, a religious community of the archdiocese, are planning to care for the homeless and destitute. An ongoing task will be sheltering the many children orphaned by the disaster. If existing facilities are inadequate, Mr. Varghese noted, more homes may have to be built.

The Major Archbishop of the Syro-Malabar Catholic Church, Mar Varkey Cardinal Vithyathil of Ernakulam, is collecting funds from each parish in his archdiocese for tsunami relief.

Catholic Near East Welfare Association (CNEWA) – which annually provides about $4 million in program support for India’s Syro-Malabar and Syro-Malankara Catholic churches – has launched an emergency appeal to raise funds to support these efforts of the local church.

Founded in 1926 by Pope Pius XI, CNEWA is an agency of the Vatican providing support to the churches and peoples of the Middle East, Northeast Africa, India and Eastern Europe. Programs include needy child, seminarian and novice sponsorship programs; village redevelopment; health care and education and interfaith dialogue.

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