Catholics in the Diocese of Rochester and around the world have responded with prayers and support for the victims of the Dec. 26 earthquake and resulting tsunamis.
The tsunamis left a trail of death and devastation through 12 countries bordering the Indian Ocean. More than 150,000 people are estimated to have died, including 30,000 in Sri Lanka, an island nation off the southeast coast of India. The United Nations estimates that millions in the region lack proper shelter.
Father Quintus Fernando, a Sri Lankan priest who recently returned home after completing five years of service in the Rochester Diocese, said the disaster has saddened his people but not broken their spirits.
“They were sad, but most of all, people were charitable,” he said.
The priest arrived in Sri Lanka Dec. 27 — the day after the tsunami struck — having left Rochester Christmas Day. Most recently, he had been priest-in-residence at St. Helen’s Parish in the Rochester suburb of Gates.
In a telephone interview from Sri Lanka, the priest said that his home diocese of Chilaw was spared from the destruction wreaked by the tsunamis. He said one Catholic family from his parish lost a grandmother and grandson to the floods while they were vacationing in an area that was hit. He added that his parishioners had collected clothes, food and money for tsunami victims.
While in the Rochester Diocese, Father Fernando also served Dec. 1999, to June 2003 in the Holy Family Catholic Community, now Holy Family Parish, which comprises the communities of St. Mary’s, Dansville; St. Joseph’s, Wayland; St. Pius V, Cohocton; and Sacred Heart, Perkinsville. Deborah Goering, principal of Holy Family School, Dansville, noted the Holy Family connection to Father Quintus, and said that her school and Holy Family Parish were collecting funds for Sri Lankan relief.
Parish and school officials from throughout the diocese shared similar stories of generosity with Doug Mandelaro, diocesan spokesman. Among the stories Mandelaro compiled were the following:
* Holy Name of Jesus Parish in Greece distributed special envelopes for tsunami relief at all Masses the weekend of Jan. 1-2. The donations will be matched with a donation from the parish’s tithing fund, according to Michele Bertot, pastoral administrator.
“Since many of the victims are children, and to foster a sense of stewardship in our youth, we have asked our children and teens to include their names, and ages with their donation,” Bertot said. “We are planning a special recognition of their generosity.”
* Church of the Assumption, Fairport has raised more than $10,000 for tsunami relief.
* Students at St. Joseph’s School in Auburn had a “dress out-of-uniform” day and collected more than $715 for relief efforts.
*The Geneva parishes of St. Francis de Sales and St. Stephen collected $3,108, which was sent directly to Catholic Relief Services, the U.S. bishops’ overseas relief and development agency, for tsunami relief.
* St. Joseph School in Penfield had a dress-down day Jan. 5, and raised $820 for relief.
* Teachers and staff at St. Andrew’s School, Rochester, will be baking desserts for the students to purchase at lunch Jan. 20-21. The proceeds will go to CRS.
“Along with this effort, the children are praying each day for the survivors and the families of the victims,” said Tracy Nadler, principal.
Meanwhile, several other parishes in the Rochester Diocese already have taken up collections for the disaster’s victims, according to Judy Taylor, communications manager for the Office of the Director of Catholic Charities. Taylor added that many more parishes were expected to collect funds for relief efforts over the weekend of Jan. 8-9.
Jesus, who calmed the sea and walked upon it, also can build up those brought low by the tsunami’s wrath.
That was the message conveyed during a Jan. 5 Memorial Mass for tsunami victims. About 100 people attended the liturgy at Rochester’s St. Anne Church and contributed more than $3,700 to a collection for the tsunami-relief fund of Catholic Relief Services.
Coincidentally, the Gospel reading for the Mass was from Mark 6: 45-52, which tells the story of Jesus walking upon water. Father Peter Abas, a native of Borneo, Malaysia, who presided at the Mass, noted that Jesus first had to go away and pray before he walked upon the water. The Mass allowed those who are concerned about tsunami victims to step away from focusing on the devastation to spend time in prayer as Jesus did, observed Father Abas, who ministers at St. Anne.
After Mass, Father Abas told the Courier that his area of Malaysia also had been spared, and that he didn’t personally know any tsunami victims. But he has learned from friends in Borneo that the disaster has united Christians, Muslims and Buddhists in prayer for the victims, he said.
“When disasters start to come, everyone feels they are united as children of God,” he said.
Like Father Fernando, Father Abas urged diocesan Catholics to financially support relief efforts, noting that people in Asia were unprepared for the disaster, which mostly affected the poor.
He said the disaster made him feel helpless, and that he was still reflecting upon it. He noted that this calamity is a wake-up call to everyone to value each day of their lives, and urged diocesan parents to use its consequences as an opportunity to teach their children empathy for others.
Those consequences could clearly be seen on the cathedral grounds in India’s Port Blair Diocese, which have become a camp for some 1,300 people displaced by the tsunami disaster, the local bishop told SAR News, an India-based church news agency. Bishop Aleixo das Neves Dias of Port Blair said the diocese has been directing the distribution of food, clothing and medicine at the cathedral in Port Blair, and that priests, nuns and other volunteers were looking after the displaced.
He said many islanders swam to safety, climbed trees or ran into the forest to save their lives.
“Their stories make me weep,” he said.
At a time of year normally marked by festive celebrations, many Catholics in the United States grieved over relatives and friends in the tsunami-ravaged areas of Asia. It also was a time of prayer and generosity as Catholics gathered at Masses and offered money to help survivors.
About 150 Washington-area Catholics with roots in Sri Lanka met at Our Lady of Mercy Church in Potomac, Md., on New Year’s Day for a Mass to remember victims and survivors of the devastating tsunamis that swept through part of their country on the day after Christmas.
“We needed to come together,” said Dakshi Desilva, holding his 2-and-a-half-year-old son, Drushan, after the Mass.
As the countries of the European Union marked an official day of mourning, Pope John Paul II once again asked people to join him in prayer for the dead and those left “in great difficulty.”
During his Jan. 5 papal audience talk, the pope prayed that Mary would watch over the world and protect it during the New Year, “marked as it is by a deep concern for the sufferings which the people of Southeast Asia are presently undergoing.”
Cardinal Theodore E. McCarrick of Washington said he was traveling to tsunami-affected areas of Sri Lanka to “express solidarity” with victims and survivors. The cardinal left for Africa and Asia Jan. 3 with a delegation of officials that included Ken Hackett, president of Catholic Relief Services
CRS had raised $17 million in the first nine days after launching its appeal to help tsunami victims. The funds are being applied to the $25 million that CRS pledged to provide to countries most affected by the disaster.
The agency said it has raised more than $9 million through its Web site, www.catholicrelief.org.
“Normally we raise a little under $1 million in a year through our Web site,” said Karen Moul, spokeswoman.
To contribute to CRS tsunami-relief efforts, send donations to: Catholic Relief Services, P.O. Box 17090 , Baltimore, MD 21203-7090. The check’s memo line should be marked “Tsunami Emergency.” Donations also can be made by calling 1-877-HELP-CRS (435-7277) or by visiting the agency’s Web site.
Contains reporting by Catholic News Service