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Marist Bulletin - Number 175


Concerning the tsunami in South East Asia

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Tsumani We are all aware of the tragedy that has occurred in South East Asia. From the time we first heard about this, the Brother Superior General and the brothers of his Council have been in telephone contact with the brothers in the affected areas, interested to find out how they and their families are surviving this tragedy. This has also given the brothers in Rome the opportunity to inform the brothers in different parts of South East Asia about the scope of the disaster in countries other than their own.

We have been kept up to date on these recent events through the media. Our sharing of news with the whole Institute, as in the case of the recent letter from the Superior General, is an expression of our solidarity, affection and concern for our brothers in these areas; we are united especially with them at this time as brothers of the same family, the family founded by Father Champagnat on the 2nd January 1817.

In his letter, Brother Seán quoted a text from Brother Michael Sexton in Trichy (India); through these words, Michael confronts us with the hard reality that they are experiencing at this time:
We have received a phone call from the parish priest of Our Lady of Velankanni parish, an important pilgrimage centre at Nagapattinam, on the coast about two hours east of Trichy. This was one of the worst affected areas in the state of Tamil Nadu. The priest called, asking if our brothers could come and help bury the many bodies that have been washed onto the beaches throughout the day. It reflects the realities that now need to be addressed in the wake of the disaster.

Brother Michael de Waas, Provincial of the Province of Sri Lanka and Pakistan, has also given us some information about the situation in his Province:
As you have seen on TV it has been a terrible disaster in Sri Lanka. Massive tidal waves and their consequences were never heard of before by many people of this island. When some of them had to face it and for most of us to see what had happened, it was all a big shock, not knowing how to cope with it.
The death toll is rising daily. Many are missing and a lot of people are displaced. The stories we hear are incredible but very real.
The good news is that there are a lot of people who have come together forgetting the differences of caste, creed and race to do their best to help one another. A terrible lesson to bring people together....
The brothers and their families are safe. The school - Holy Cross College in Kalutara - situated about 20 KM south of Colombo, was the only school close to the lagoon and the sea. This school and the town close by stand unharmed, but a few kilometres further south the tragedy struck with no warning whatsoever. Many buildings have come down, many things washed away with so many innocent people. We still do not know if our teachers and students in that school have been affected. There is a possibility of at least their houses having been destroyed as they lived very close to the sea.
Luckily, it was a Sunday, Poya Day (full Moon day when a lot of Buddhists people go to temples) and the day after Christmas. Hence many people did not go to work. Fisher folk are mostly Catholics and they would have opted to rest after Christmas celebrations. Many people either chose not to go for Sunday Morning Mass or postponed this to attend the evening Masses.
A church in the South - Matara - dedicated to Our Lady, and a place of pilgrimage, was hit by the massive tidal waves when the Mass was going on. That dragged many people back to the sea including a Sister of Charity who was about to distribute communion. She was in her seventies and died on the spot. She was found trapped in the sanctuary. The priest and another sister had a narrow escape though they had the shock of their life. The statue of Our Lady of Matara, a miraculous statue of Mary that was very prominently placed in front of the church facing the sea has been washed into the sea. The story goes that it was once found in the sea of Matara where the church is built now.
It will take a couple of days for many in Sri Lanka to come to terms with this terrible tragedy. A lot of people are glued to their televisions and radios watching and listening very carefully monitoring the developments and also to be prepared for the worst.
Many thanks for your concern and prayerful support for our people when it has been most needed. Please do continue to keep us in your prayers.

Malaysia, despite being close to the epicentre, has not been greatly affected as Sumatra has protected it. Brother Tom Chin, Provincial of the Province of China (that includes China, Malaysia and Singapore) has sent us the following news:
Thanks for your concern, all the brothers are well, and none of our schools have been affected by the tidal wave.
I have not heard of any one related to the brothers who are victims of the disaster. The worst hit areas are certain parts of Penang Island, and also the west coast of northern Malaysia where we do not have any schools.
We heard of some casualties, but Malaysia is not as badly hit as parts of Thailand, Sri Lanka and India.

We will continue to stay in contact with our brothers in this area of South East Asia and as soon as we have further information we will share this with the rest of the Institute. We are also deciding at the moment what type of help we can offer as an Institute to those affected, especially the children and young people, even though we understand at this time that the most important thing is to be able to provide for basic needs. We hope to be able to offer shortly a possibility of our working with the victims of this tragedy.

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