Iran's Catholics Joining Quake-Relief Efforts

Nuncio Tells of Aid in Wake of Devastation

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TEHRAN, Iran, JAN. 1, 2004 (Zenit.org).- Iran's Catholics have been collecting money and medicines for the victims of last Friday's earthquake that devastated the city of Bam and left nearly 30,000 dead.



Archbishop Angelo Mottola, apostolic nuncio in Tehran, confirmed that Iran's Catholics have been working for relief efforts since the day after the quake in the Kerman province.

Estimates of the number of dead vary; some officials say the final toll could hit 40,000. The number of wounded is considerably higher. The ancient city of Bam was virtually destroyed.

Archbishop Mottola told AsiaNews: "There are no Christians, yet we have many friends [there]. And unfortunately there is no way to get in touch with them. Even cell phones don't work, and I am worried, since I still haven't had any word as to whether these friends are alive or dead."

The archbishop has been in Tehran for nearly four years. "The situation is really on the brink of desperation," he said. "As soon as we became aware of the disaster, on Saturday, December 27, we called a meeting of Catholic Church bishops and decided to help the people of Bam as much as we could."

Iran's Catholics number around 16,000 in a total population of 62 million inhabitants. In the wake of the Khomeini regime, relations are now improving between the Church and the government of President Mohammad Khatami.

The Church donated about $500 to the relief effort. "The amount is not large," the nuncio acknowledged. "However it is the first sign of closeness and solidarity with our brothers and sisters."

"We have also asked Caritas Internationalis to contribute to this cause, as a most important act of human solidarity," he added. "The situation is quite frightening."

"In addition to the tragedy of deaths," he continued, "there are survivors in need of help in the form of food, medicine, tents and blankets. They have nothing, while living and sleeping in this desert area. Travel to the region is also made difficult. To reach the disaster area there is only a small airport and a single desert road."

Many charitable organizations have already responded to the appeal, including Dutch and German charities as well as Caritas Internationalis. Representatives from Sécours Catholique, a French charity, have also arrived in Tehran. The charities have allocated 50,000 euros ($63,000) each. The sum goes partly to fulfill emergency needs and partly to rebuild the Bam area, which was 80% destroyed.

Before praying the midday Angelus on Sunday, John Paul II appealed to Catholics and the international community worldwide to show solidarity for the earthquake victims.

"I am comforted by the Holy Father's appeal for the Bam quake victims," Archbishop Mottola said. "I really hope the world and especially Christians accept his urgent call."

Other Christian communities in Iran, including Orthodox and Protestants, are collecting emergency goods to be sent to quake victims.