By Marnie McAllister and Catholic News Service,
KATHMANDU, Nepal — Inclement weather and logistical pressures were delaying aid to hundreds of thousands of Nepalese earthquake victims, the director of Caritas Nepal told Catholic News Service (CNS) April 28.
“The logistical problems are enormous and sadly, relief is being delayed,” said Father Pius Perumana. As of The Record’s deadline April 29, about 5,000 people were known to have died as a result of the magnitude 7.8 earthquake that shook Nepal on April 25. An estimated 10,000 people were reportedly injured and about one million people were left homeless.
Eighteen Sisters of Charity of Nazareth (SCNs) who already serve in Nepal are among the few groups that were able to help immediately. The sisters are working with Caritas Nepal and a German non-governmental organization to aid victims.
The sisters were all accounted for and uninjured after the temblor and its aftershocks, according to one of the congregation’s vice presidents, Sister Sangeeta Ayithamattam, who is serving in Nazareth, Ky., but has spoken to the sisters. Many who work in the SCN ministries in Nepal have lost their homes and one staff member lost every member of her family, Sister Ayithamattam said.
The SCN buildings and property also were unharmed, but the sisters slept outdoors — like thousands of others in Kathmandu — for the first few days after the earthquake in case aftershocks caused more destruction.
“They were scared, really, because the aftershocks kept coming,” said Sister Ayithamattam. “They are worried about the people. It’s a big, big tragedy.”
Their clients, people who live in urban and rural areas in dire poverty, are likely all homeless now, she said.
The devastation included not just buildings collapsing from the tremors, but also people and villages being buried by landslides and avalanches triggered by the quake and aftershocks. The number of casualties was expected to grow as rescue teams tried to make their way into more remote areas.
The sisters are mobilizing two teams of counselors and nurses to work with victims both in Kathmandu and rural areas.
But as of April 28, those in the capital had not been able to leave the city — the roads are blocked.
Sister Aisha Kavalakattu, who serves in Nepal, and another sister planned to drive motorcycles to one of their rural ministry sites on April 29 to begin aid work there, Sister Ayithamattam said.
The SCNs, Caritas Internationalis partners, including the U.S. bishops’ Catholic Relief Services, and other aid organizations received prayers and encouragement from Pope Francis a day after the earthquake.
“I pray for the victims, those wounded and for all those who suffer because of this calamity,” Pope Francis said after reciting the “Regina Coeli” prayer with visitors gathered in St. Peter’s Square April 26.
Before leading people in praying the Hail Mary, he expressed his hope that those affected by the disaster would “have the support of fraternal solidarity.”
The Pontifical Council Cor Unum, which promotes and coordinates charitable giving, announced April 28 that Pope
Francis had sent “a first contribution of $100,000” to assist the victims.
The money, it said, “which will be sent to the local church, will be used to support the assistance efforts underway on behalf of the displaced” and others impacted by the quake.
The papal donation is meant to be “a first and immediate concrete expression” of the pope’s personal concern for all the quake’s victims, Cor Unum said, adding that bishops’ conferences and Catholic charities from around the world already have taken an active role in helping survivors.
The SCNs are able to wire donated funds directly to the sisters in Nepal and have set up a donation page to aid the sisters in their relief work at www.scnfamily.org. As of April 28, the sisters had already received about $15,000.
The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops also have asked parishes to take a collection as soon as possible for humanitarian relief work in Nepal. The funds will be sent to the bishops’ international aid arm, Catholic Relief Services, which is sending representatives to work with Caritas Nepal. For more information on the collection and CRS, visit www.crs.org.