Solidarity and Dialogue: Keys to Rebuilding Asia

Catastrophe Could "Generate a New Culture," Says Vatican Official

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ROME, JAN. 6, 2005 (Zenit.org).- A global response of solidarity and interreligious dialogue are seen as keys to the reconstruction of countries hard hit by the Dec. 26 tsunami.



Indonesia, Sri Lanka, Thailand and India were the hardest hit by the tsunami, which was triggered by a powerful earthquake off the coast of Sumatra. Malaysia, Burma, Maldives, Bangladesh, Somalia, Tanzania and Kenya also suffered the consequences of the killer wave.

Press estimates put the death toll at 140,000, though observers fear that another 150,000 could die if aid doesn't reach them in time.

When he learned of the tragedy, John Paul II sent a shipment of aid by way of his humanitarian aid agency, the Pontifical Council "Cor Unum."

Donations can be sent to:

Pontifical Council Cor Unum
C.P. 603035
00120 Vatican City

Checks should include "Asian emergency" on the memo line.

Bishop Elio Sgreccia, the newly named president of the Pontifical Academy for Life, said that the defense of life in the devastated areas would depend in part on the triumph of solidarity.

"The only beautiful sign that is seen in this moment is the surge in feelings of solidarity, which brings help from all parts of the world," he told Vatican Radio. "This can certainly generate a new culture. It can generate a way of being and helping."

Father Bernardo Cervellera, an expert on Asia and a member of the Pontifical Institute for Foreign Missions, said: "I find that this tragedy, so globalized from the point of view of the victims as well as from the point of view of the perception, is making solidarity more globalized too."

The director of AsiaNews noted that many experts say the tsunami will not cause major economic disruptions. Yet he warned: "The problem is that an immense humanitarian disaster exists."

"The tsunami has affected many children," he said. "A generation is lost, and it will create a humanitarian difficulty even more strong."

The disaster also concerns "the poor, because most of the death and most of the destruction occurred among fishing families, in their homes, in boats," Father Cervellera said.

"These naturally do not impact much of the gross domestic product of a nation. But it's about a subsistence economy that, in fact, has been wiped out," he added. These "are the people after all who will have to be helped."

Missionaries and volunteers in Southeast Asia agree that international adoptions are not the solution for the many children who were left orphans by the tsunami.

That would deprive the countries of their children, and the youngsters themselves would suffer a "second abandonment" by losing their own environment and customs, the Fides agency said. It is preferable to assist the children in their own country, helping "from a distance," the agency added.

Archbishop Silvano Tomasi, the Holy See's permanent observers to the United Nations in Geneva, told Vatican Radio that this "is the moment that requires the commitment of all of civil society, and therefore also of the churches, in particular the Catholic Church."

He continued: "All that has been done by the local churches, by the dioceses which have been mobilized, by the bishops' conferences and Catholic organizations in all the world, has shown the sense of solidarity that inspires Christians is not only a simple abstraction, but rather is translated into a concrete and immediate action that brings visible and efficient help in this moment of enormous tragedy."

The witness of many missionaries in the front line of the catastrophe has also awakened interreligious dialogue, especially with Islam, which is fundamental for reconstruction efforts in Southeast Asia.

To cite one example, Father Vincenzo Baravalle, provincial superior of the Xaverian Missionary Fathers in Indonesia, told the Missionary Service News Agency: "The province of Aceh, in the north of Sumatra, is a very observant Muslim zone, and some the most radical extremists could misinterpret our work." About 100,000 people are estimated to have died in the region from the tsunami.

"In no way do we want to take a risk so that someone thinks the Church wants to take advantage of the situation in order to extend its presence," he said. Thus, "it requires a lot of delicacy."

On returning from Aceh, the apostolic nuncio, Archbishop Albert Ranjith Patabendige Don, told Vatican Radio: "There are many Muslims, and governmental and nongovernmental organizations are trying to do what they can.

"The Catholic Church is looking to work with these groups and do what is possible through the help it receives from Caritas as well as from the dioceses. Also, the Holy See has sent us help through 'Cor Unum' and 'Propaganda Fide.'"

More than 17,000 islands make up Indonesia, and 90% of the country's 220 million inhabitants are Muslim. Christians represent about 13% of the population, including 6 million Catholics.