Assistance from Muslim Nations?

by Steve Ray on December 31, 2005

A Catholic Look at Society, Culture and Politics

(My note: Notice the comments on how much assistance was given by the United States and especially by Catholic Relief Services and how little assistance was given by rich Muslim countries. It says a lot about the perspective of each religion. Emphasis in red is my own.)

Deal W. Hudson

In This Issue: Muslim Nation Honors Catholics for Tsunami Relief

Indonesia has a sad history of anti-Christian discrimination and violence. But the same nation — in a gesture of historic significance — has honored Catholic Relief Services (CRS) for its ongoing Tsunami relief effort.CRS has completed the first year of a five-year $188 million rehabilitation effort to help more than 600,000 people affected by the devastation. Over $28 million has already been spent. The total amount pledged by the United States government through USAID is $400 million.

Bishop Robert N. Lynch, CRS Board Chairman, and Ken Hackett, president of CRS since 2003, attended the event.

The ceremony was held on December 20 in the city of Banda Aceh at the opening of a hospital for woman and children built by CRS.

Marc Barhonovich, a friend and advisor to Bishop Lynch, attended the ceremony and told the Window, “The work of CRS has fundamentally affected the attitude toward the West and toward Catholics in this part of Indonesia.” The people in Aceh now view them “as friends, not enemies.”

Banda Aceh is the capital of the special territory of Aceh, on the northern tip of the island of Sumatra. Aceh was at the epicenter of last December’s tsunami, losing over 133,000 of its 4,271,000 inhabitants to the tidal waves. 37,000 are still missing.

Aceh is the most religiously conservative part of Indonesia which is 87 percent Muslim.

Governor Azwar Abubakar gave the award to Catholic Relief Services — the first time a Muslim nation, to our knowledge, has honored either a Catholic organization or bishop.Indonesia’s record of intolerance and violence against both Catholics and Protestants is well known and documented, especially against the majority Catholic territory of East Timor, which was annexed in 1975.

Bahronovich was told by Muslims who attended the ceremony that they had received little aid from Muslim nations. One person told him, “We have not received much help from our own people.”

Also, to his surprise, several Muslims expressed gratitude for the presence of the United States military, which has been present with food and aid from the very beginning.

John Klink was a regional director for CRS in Thailand, Morocco, and Yemen before going to the United Nations as a diplomat for the Holy See. Klink confirmed for The Window the significance of this honor: “The Indonesian people in the past have seen the West try to impose its decadent practices, such as abortion on demand. CRS has shown them a completely different side of the Western world, one that helps them to live their lives on their own terms. This is something they have never seen before.”

In the aftermath of the tsunami, Catholic Relief Services provided massive amounts of emergency food and health care but has remained in Aceh to help rebuild its infrastructure. Road, bridges, wells, houses, hospitals, and bus stations are being rebuilt. 2,260 bridges were destroyed along with 1,165 miles of roads. People are being put back to work through small business grants and job training. Schools have been rebuilt — 2,135 were destroyed or damaged — and the necessary equipment, uniforms, and teacher training are being supplied.

On the island of Pulo, where 2000 of its 6900 inhabitants were killed, CRS cleaned up the harbor for its fishing and shipping industry.

The presence of Western relief groups like CRS has had the ancillary effect of bringing at least a temporary halt to the ongoing war between the Free Aceh Movement (GAM) and the government of Indonesia. Barhonovich reports that since the peace treaty of August 15, the citizens have been happily walking the streets without fear.

Interestingly, what gives the separatist movement its leverage over the central government is that Aceh is thought to have untapped gas and oil reserves equal to any in the world. “Special territory” is the administrative designation intended to give Aceh some autonomy from the central government in Jakarta.

Catholics themselves, though few in number, were also hit by the unexpected earthquake and tidal waves. In the middle of Banda Aceh stands the single Catholic parish, Sacred Heart, in the entire territory. Founded in 1925 by Dutch missionaries, Sacred Heart lost 25 of its 400 members.

The parish structure was badly damaged by the surging water that rose 26 feet over its walls. And the entire congregation could have been killed if the pastor, Franciscan Father Ferdinando Seferi, has not been celebrating Mass elsewhere on December 26.

For more information on CRS’s tsunami relief to donate, go to http://www.kintera.org/htmlcontent.asp?cid=41794.

The Window is published by the Morley Institute for Church & Culture. For the latest Catholic news, the Window recommends the Catholic News Agency. Click here to visit their site.

Email: thewindow@morleyicc.com Phone: 202-775-1150.

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