At the end of January we read a tale in the newspapers that brought tears of gratitude and wonder. Mustafa Kamal, an Indonesian delivery truck driver, had been inland on his delivery route the day of the tsunami, the tidal waves that wreaked destruction around the Indian Ocean.
When he raced home to find his family, he met disaster on a mind-staggering scale. He found the bodies of two of his daughters in the tragic days following the earthquake and tidal wave. Day after day he continued searching for his wife and five-year-old daughter, dead or alive.
For four weeks he searched the makeshift morgues and quickly set-up shelters, but to no avail. He never did find his wife, presumably swept away by nature’s force. But his five-year-old daughter, Rina Augustina, was another story. At night Mustafa would have visions of his daughter that convinced him she was alive. Finally, on January 24, after almost a month of searching, the two were tearfully reunited.
A Close-up Look
Relief workers say that, even to this day, survivors in the affected region are trying to locate family members. And we know the mind-numbing numbers of people killed: over 260,000, circling the ocean from India to Indonesia.
Those lucky enough to survive are still doing just that: surviving. Entire communities, as we know, were destroyed. Relief efforts, some by our own Catholic organizations, have valiantly gone into war zones and incredibly isolated locales to save lives. But the real work is just beginning.
Joan Neal, vice president of U.S. Operations for Catholic Relief Services, spoke with our own Franciscan Radio producer Judy Zarick recently about the help that agency is providing.
Catholic Relief Services, as most readers know, was founded by the U.S. bishops in response to the conditions that existed in Europe after World War II. Over the years it has grown into an organization of over 4,000 staff involved both in emergency relief and in long-term economic development.
Neal admits, after visiting the tsunami-affected region, that she had never seen destruction on that scale before. But her organization’s close relations with the local Church allowed them to respond quickly, relieve much suffering and prevent starvation that surely would have occurred. They, of course, joined many other international relief organizations in the effort.
Now they and others are committed to rebuilding the societies destroyed by the waters of December. That’s where you and I come in.
The Crisis Continues
One of the biggest challenges that Catholic Relief Services and other agencies face is donor burnout. It’s easy to get excited about a tidal wave when shocking pictures are on the nightly news, all over the Internet and across the front page of the paper.
After the gravity of the tsunami’s effect became apparent, Americans responded generously, at unprecedented levels. A third of American households contributed more than $400 million to all manner of tsunami-related charities. Some credit this outpouring to reliable and trustworthy Internet sites. That, combined with good reporting of financial accountability (CRS, for example, spends fully 94 percent of collected funds directly on relief, according to Neal), meant a new moment in world outreach.
But after the rush of the early news is past, the rebuilding still requires—and deserves—our support. Church-sponsored relief agencies, in fact, need our ongoing support in many parts of the world, where they have been hard at work for decades. Who’s to say, for example, that the 1,500,000 homeless people of Darfur in Sudan don’t deserve as much of our attention and support as the tsunami victims?
At St. Anthony Messenger, we know from readership surveys that our readers prefer to hear news from home, that you are not as likely to read an article about the Church halfway around the world. Yet our faith compels us to consider people whom we have never or will never meet as our neighbors. And we trust that you will open your hearts and minds to the suffering of people in faraway places, even after it leaves the front pages of our media. (A list of Catholic agencies is at AmericanCatholic.org/news/tsunami.)
People of Hope
The tsunami happened just after Christmas, yet the demand for our attention and support continues during Lent. We are reminded weekly by the Sunday Gospels to pray for a deeper faith, to turn back toward God with our whole hearts.
Our daily practices of almsgiving, fasting and penance remind us that we have two great commandments to follow: We are to love God with our whole hearts, and we are to love our neighbor as ourselves.
Even after Easter, the demand for our attention will continue. It has been estimated that a decade of rebuilding lies before the tsunami-affected region. But the demand for our solidarity with all people, especially those suffering in the world, will not end even there.
When young Rina Augustina Kamal raced into her father’s arms January 24, Mustafa exclaimed, “By the grace of God, I knew you were alive! I knew it!” As Mustafa headed out with her into the sunshine, he said, “Come, let’s go look for Mama.” Can we be people of such practical hope? Our support of development efforts will be a sign of it.J.F.