J&F 100: Floods, fires and the tsunami

From Issue 60 Spring 2005: A round up of the Jesuits’ international response to the Boxing Day tsunami of 2004 in the Indian Ocean, and a Christmas Day fire which destroyed an historic Jesuit church in Guyana.

Tsunami

Along with members of other religious orders Jesuits were in the forefront of relief work amongst the Tsunami victims. They responded courageously, promptly and effectively in areas affected by the Indian Ocean tsunami that were otherwise out of reach. It was reported that they were able to do this because of both the direction from their Headquarters and of local flexibility.  Jesuits, like some other religious orders, are less involved in routine parish life and more into the provision of health, education and other forms of support for the community at large. Their semi-detached status from diocesan controls enables them to do things expeditiously in times of real need.

The Jesuit Provincial of Indonesia, Fr Priyono Marwan, sent Jesuit volunteers immediately to work among the people of Banda Ache. The Jesuits set up a crisis centre on behalf of the Indonesian Bishops' Conference.

In India the Provincial of Madurai appointed a committee of Jesuits to co-ordinate relief efforts along with Caritas and the Red Cross. Jesuit students have been involved in great numbers.

In Sri Lanka the Jesuits are working in six areas affected by the tsunami. They have formulated a fully-costed reconstruction plan, beginning with the building of 600 houses in each area and the purchase of water pumps. Fr Veeresan Yogeswaran is working with fellow Jesuits to improve the sanitary conditions in affected areas to prevent epidemics. Jesuit counselling centres are caring for the psychological state of survivors that can lead them to severe depression and suicide. Fr Anton Pieris is co-ordinating the local Jesuit efforts and has now set up a fully operational office.

In Thailand the Jesuits have answered the call for interpreters for the non-Thai survivors in the hospitals. The Jesuit Superior in Bangkok, Martin Suhartono, is acting as interpreter and counsellor to the patients.

The tsunami has shown that the Jesuits, along with the Church's other missionary orders, are well placed to come to the help of people severely affected by disasters.

The British Province has given £250,000 to assist in the relief efforts - £100,000 to the Sri Lankan Jesuits, £50,000 to the Jesuits in Thailand and £100,000 to CAFOD.

Due to the kindness of readers of Jesuits & Friends a further £180,000 has been sent to assist the Jesuits in South East Asia.

Fire in Guyana

Parishioners openly wept as a Christmas Day electrical destroyed the 134 year-old Sacred Heart church in Georgetown, Guyana's capital city.

Parish priest, Lourduraj Aroldasamy SJ, said the blaze started when electrical flashing lights  in  the  Nativity crib sparked a fire.  None of the 65 parishioners, who had been attending Christmas morning Mass, were injured in the blaze, which destroyed the wooden church, as well as the nearly Jesuit residence and Sacred Heat public school.

Earlier that day the church was crowded, as more than a hundred children performed a nativity play during midnight mass.

The Bishop of Guyana, Francis Alleyne OSB, has initiated a process of consultation as to what should replace the church.