By Susan Brinkmann, OCDS
According to a local bishop, the area most seriously affected by the tsunami that hit the islands of Mentawai on Monday are Catholic villages where more than 8,000 faithful kept their homes.
The tsunami was caused by a 7.5 magnitude quake which struck on Monday near the island of South Pagai, one of the Mentawai islands near Sumatra. Thus far, 311 people have been confirmed dead with as many as 400 still missing and 4,000 left homeless.
“Southern Mentawai, on the western side of the islands ravaged by the tidal wave, is the site of Catholic villages,” Bishop Martinus Situmorang of Padang, Sumatra, told Fides.
“We have taken action without hesitation, in this disaster that affects us personally,” he said. “We have sent down first aid. As a diocese, we rented a boat that will depart for the islands tomorrow carrying humanitarian aid. A team of Caritas is already in the tsunami zone and is working alongside the four priests and four nuns who live in the area. The religious are working on the frontline in helping and bringing comfort to the population.”
After launching an urgent appeal to the world, he added: “To the faithful of the Mentawai Islands, I say: this is a disaster that has devastated your lives, but do not be discouraged! Now is not the time to ask ourselves how and why, but we extend our heart and hands to God, with faith and prayer. Do not be afraid, but be ready to hope that the Lord and our brothers are close to you in your suffering.”
Pope Benedict XVI echoed these sentiments earlier this week when he expressed his “deepest sympathy to the families of the victims for the loss of their loved ones” and assured his “closeness in prayer” to all Indonesians. He called on the international community “to strive to supply the aid necessary to alleviate the distress of the people” who suffered in this disaster.
The fault that ruptured Monday on the Sumatra island’s coast also caused the 2004 quake and tsunami that killed 230,000 people in a dozen countries, making it the deadliest tsunami on record.
Bishop Situmorang says he expects a great deal of solidarity among the people as they work their way through this disaster.
“It is not time to argue or waste time,” he said, “but to urgently bring help and show real love to those who are victims of the disaster.”
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