In response to the many requests for information about the terrible earthquake, I am sending you this brief overview of the situation.
1. As National Director of Caritas Pakistan I have just returned to Faisalabad after spending 5 hectic days in Islamabad-Rawalpindi to review the situation and organize the relief effort.
I will go back there on Monday after attending to certain pastoral duties and diocesan responsibilities during the weekend in Faisalabad. For me it is very time- consuming and tiring as I do not have a car and have to use public buses.
2. Caritas Pakistan is working closely with CRS (Catholic Relief Services). Our other Caritas partners (Deutscher Caritas, Secours Catholique, Cafod, Caritas Austria, Cordaid and many others ...) have also responded very quickly and with great concern and generosity. Other organizations like Church in Need, Manos Unidas (Spain) Missio-Aachen etc.. have also promised to help.
3. Our frontline office is in Rawalpindi, and we have now set up a Field Office in the town of Mansehra, about 100 kilometers further north of Rawalpindi. This town is closer to the affected area and suffered only light damage. From here our field staff will further distribute relief good to the affected areas.
4. There are hundreds of villages and small towns in the vast mountainous area that has been affected by the earthquake. Although the roads to the main towns have been cleared, the remote villages can only be reached by Helicopters. This can only be done by the Pakistan Army, UN and other big organizations. Every 5 or 10 minutes a helicopter is arriving in Islamabad with injured people. The hospitals of the city are full. This morning I visited two of the largest hospitals.
5. On the positive side, the people all over Pakistan are responding with great generosity. The President of the Pakistan Bishops' Conference, Archbishop L.J.Saldanha, immediately announced a donation of Rs. 500,000 (about US $ 8,500) for the President's Relief Fund on behalf of the Catholics of Pakistan.
6. Within Church circles, parish and youth groups are also collecting food, clothing and other useful articles. There are also a number of small Christian NGOs. But the big challenge is how to co-ordinate all these small initiatives, and to take and distribute these items to the people who are scattered in the mountain villages and valleys.
In Rawalpindi city I tried to organize these groups on 12th October at a meeting in the Christian Study Centre, an ecumenical centre for the promotion of Muslim-Christian dialogue. Our Caritas office in Rawalpindi will also facilitate and co-ordinate the efforts of the Local Church in Rawalpindi and elsewhere as there is no such effort on the diocesan level.
7. At the same meeting I made it clear to the Protestant and Evalgelical groups present that this was not an occasion to proselytize or to preach to the suffering people. The Good Samaritan did not preach, he acted. Our love and concern is in itself a witness; it does not need to have an ulterior motive. Colonel Tressler, a retired Anglican army officer, fully supported me.
8. As the winter season begins to set in in the mountains, the immediate need is for Tents, Blankets and Warm Clothing. Tents are items not easily availble in the market. Caritas Germany is sending 2,200 tents which we will distribute as soon as they arrive. Cartas France (Secours Catholique) has already sent a Water Purification Plant which has been sent to the devastated city of Muzaffarabad, the capital of Pakistan-controlled Kashmir.
9. Although the earthquake-stricken area lies in the Diocese of Rawalpindi-Islamabad, there are very few Christians in this area. In the city of Abbottabad, about 70 kilometers north of Rawalpindi, there is a church, presbytery and resident priest, Fr. Inayat Patras. Fr. Inayat sought Caritas help to evacuate 15 Christian families from Muzaffarabad (80% destroyed) where the stench of corpses (still buried under debris) fills the air. These Christian families have been housed in the parish school in Abbottabad.
Also in Abbottabad, Fr. Miguel SDB, a Salesian priest working in Lahore, has arrived with a group of his students to set up "Don Bosco Village" for the people who are coming to the city from the villages. Another earthquake of 5.5 on the Richter scale was felt last night. People are leaving their damaged towns and villages in fear and coming to the cities. Caritas will help Fr. Miguel with tents and blankets to set up a Tent Village in Abbottabad.
9. As there are very few churches or Church-related structures in this area, the Christian community has not been not much affected. In Rawalpindi the building of St. Mary's High School has developed big cracks, which have rendered the building unsafe. Sister Eileen Daffy, the Principal of the school, has evacuated the building and accommodated the classes elsewhere. No other reports of serious damage to church, presbytery or other such buildings have been reported so far.
10. Fortunate that only a very few Christians have been affected (5 were killed in the apartment-block collapse in Islamabad), we are joining our Muslim brothers and sisters throughout the country to reach out to those in distress and in need. We have to reach out in Love and solidarity and give witness that ours is a God of love who cares for us in spite of all the tragedies and crosses we experience in our lives.
The prayers, condolences and help from so many Catholic organizations and individual friends is very much appreciated and a great support for us.
God bless you all.
Joseph Coutts (Bishop of Faisalabad)
N.B. CARITAS Pakistan will be sending out regular reports to Caritas Internationalis (Rome) and our other Caritas partners in every country. I hope you will be able to see these either on the internet or in the you