Rome - 21 January 2005 for SSpS and SVD Mission Secretaries and Mission Animators






3. John Prior - WHAT CAN YOU DO?


5. Dominic Emmanuel - MISPLACED PRIDE







Provisional Liturgical Texts for the Feasts of Sts. Arnold and Joseph are available in Latin, English, Spanish, Italian and German at the SVD website:

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Sr. Sylvia Kuruthukulangara SSpS works in Zambia and has been following the news of the earthquake and resulting tsunami. She writes to tell how some orphans are showing solidarity.

"Thank you for updating us with the news of the earthquake and tsunami. Every day we are including in our prayers the intentions of those who have suffered. And we are making a contribution from the community. Even the orphans, with whom I work in Zambia, are helping. They forgo eggs and fish one time each week. It is a great sacrifice for them. May God bless your efforts to communicate what is happening. Love, Sr. Sylvia SSpS"

[Contact Sr. Sylvia Kuruthukulangara SSpS at]

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3. John Prior - WHAT CAN YOU DO?


John Prior SVD is a theologian working in Eastern Indonesia. He sends some reflections written approximately two weeks after the earthquake and tsunami. He helps give a fuller picture of the disaster and its wider implications for our missionary service and for the future of our world.

I live in Flores, eastern Indonesia, some 3,000 kilometres from the earth/sea quake that hit Aceh, North Sumatra and Nias Island on 26th December last. I do not need to paint a graphic picture; you have seen those on your electronic media. I shall not even give you human interest stories; you already have seen and heard of personal and family tragedies and the occasional miracle survival. Allow me, two weeks after the horrific disaster, to make the following points.

1. Twelve years ago we in Flores suffered a tectonic quake (6.7 on the Richter scale) and tsunami wave (December 1992). It was traumatic with 2,600 killed, but on a scale far less than that which has hit western Indonesia (8.9 on the Richter scale) and a half-dozen countries in Southeast Asia, South Asia and East Africa - where the total death rate has already exceeded 150,000 and continues to rise. Today, 9th January 2005, the total dead in Indonesia has reached 104,000. Others are still unaccounted for. Some 380,000 are displaced and without an income. These are the official figures for Indonesia alone; the reality is almost certainly far grimmer.

2. The BBC and other news sources have emphasized the destruction caused by the tsunami. But for Indonesia the first death and damage came from the massive earthquake of 8.9 on the Richter scale just 100 kilometres off the west coast of Sumatra. The enormous damage from the quake was then compounded by the tidal wave that swept the confused people as well as the damaged buildings, roads and bridges away.

3. The worst hit areas in Indonesia are the towns and villages along the West coast of Sumatra and the much smaller island of Nias, a largely Muslim community but with a significant Christian minority.

4. With over 100,000 bodies to dispose of, only half that number had been 'buried' during the first two weeks, the rest are still rotting in the streets, or floating down rivers, or are under rubble. Yes, even two weeks after the catastrophe the stench of rotting bodies is overwhelming. That you cannot grasp through the electronic media You can imagine the fear of cholera, typhoid and other such diseases. The total dead could dramatically rise over the coming weeks if the remaining bodies are not disposed of and the survivors inoculated - and yes, supplied with drinking water and sufficient food.

5. Thus many bodies have been bulldozed into mass graves without identification or religious ritual. This will be traumatic for surviving relatives later, for there will be no identification through photos etc. This might well complicate compensation later, for little could be done to obtain proper evidence of who was killed. Government files and family records were destroyed in the surge. Over a dozen heads of local government (mayors) are still unaccounted for.

6. Immediate material aid is sufficient. Indeed it has been piling up at Medan airport and at military airports in Jakarta and elsewhere. Initially there were only two helicopters in operation. The immediate need is for distribution. Nine USA helicopters are now making frequent trips every day. Along with distribution there is need for medical volunteers, and also volunteers who can help the people with infrastructure rehabilitation. Clearly all outside help should collaborate with local people and locally-rooted organisations.

7. There are two complicating factors. Firstly, Aceh is the most Islamic of all districts in Indonesia with Syariah (Islamic) law in force. Christians in Jakarta and throughout Indonesia were immediate in their substantial and significant aid. Yes, 3,000 kilometres away, the goodwill and generosity of our economically-poor Catholic people in Flores is outstanding. But this has to be handled with great sensitivity. Christian volunteers are working alongside Muslim colleagues to avoid accusations of 'Christianisation'. This is prophetic dialogue in action.

8. The second complicating factor is that Aceh has been a war zone since the mid-1980s and therefore under the control of the army and police. Oil rich but economically poor Aceh has a longstanding independence movement. And this is a key dilemma: the armed forces have the logistics to open up roads and fly in essential food. And yet for over two decades they have faced the Acehnese as enemies rather than fellow Muslims, as rebels rather than fellow citizens. Soldiers who have been shooting 'enemies' are now asked to feed them. You can imagine the psychological conflict on both sides. This partly explains the slow response of the government during the first week after the tragedy. Thus, voluntary assistance is important. Understandably, people are suspicious of the army.

9. Already there are clashes between the army and GAM (Achenese Independence Movement). The army is moving to coordinate all aid and restrict access everywhere outside the three larger towns. Overall coordination is vital - but not only under the Indonesian armed forces, but through a coalition with the Indonesian government, the UN and civil society.

10. Voluntary assistance via Mosques, Civil Society and the Churches is also important because we know that governments tend to use situations to their advantage. Food might well be used to 'win hearts and minds' but perhaps also to punish Acehnese resistance fighters - as was done in East Timor in the late 1970s. The catastrophic humanitarian disaster is complicated by political resentment. It will be important to monitor aid: will 'friends' be rewarded while 'enemies' punished? The apostle Paul wrote: 'If your enemies are hungry, give them something to eat; if thirsty, something to drink.' (Rm 12:20).

11. Also, disasters in the past have become opportunities for removing indigenous people from their ancestral homes and opening the way for profitable conglomerates. No natural disaster remains purely natural for long.

12. The JPIC networks of the Indonesian Jesuits and Franciscans were cooperating with Muslim colleagues from day one. They are very much in touch regarding both humanitarian issues, human rights concerns and religious sensitivities. The Crisis Centre at the Bishops' Conference is collaborating with SEFA - a network of Muslim youth in Aceh with whom the Bishops' Centre has had contact over the years (assisting victims of the ongoing armed conflict). Padmaseputra, SJ, the Jakarta Cardinal's secretary, has been working from the SEFA office (sleeping on the floor) helping the youth with organisation. The Indonesian Bishops' Crisis Centre has opened a website to respond to the need for transparency and accountability. It can be accessed through Plans are still short term - two-weeks at a time.

13. There is some evidence that global warming is not just bringing about climate change or raising the sea level but also warming, indeed even expanding, the tectonic plates on which we live. Unless global warming is slowed down and eventually reversed, we can expect more frequent earthquakes and volcanic eruptions and on an increasingly vicious scale. Natural disasters are not purely natural. We have recently had a massive quake just off Flores (on Alor Island) and another in West Papua (Nabire). Throughout most of 2004 four of our Indonesian volcanoes were rumbling away including our local one in Maumere, Mount Egon. And now the catastrophe in Aceh.

14. The most vulnerable are the orphans. The need is for shelter, for schooling, for counselling. Thousands of teachers were victims. Also widows have lost their anchor in a patriarchal society and need to find strength in solidarity. Then there are the aged and the disabled who need hope and protection.

15. Alongside immediate aid comes the first stage of rehabilitation - housing, livelihood materials and the reviving of locally-based trades.


16. Contribute. Donations to pay for the transportation and distribution of food and medicine. Donations to pay for the volunteers who are taking aid to the survivors. The Divine Word Missionaries and Holy Spirit Sisters - among so many others - are sending sisters and seminarians - together with Muslim youth and under the aegis of Islamic organisations and NGOs - to distribute aid. Just as importantly they will listen to traumatised people and so help with counselling and start the process of rebuilding hope in a truly hopeless situation. Meanwhile SVD, diocesan and O.Carm seminarians with lay students from Ledalero Seminary have worked with the SSpS under the coordination of The Volunteer Team (established by Candraditya Research Centre some years ago) to collect money in Maumere town. Within a few days over 60 million Indonesian rupiahs has been collected from this small town of 50,000 ordinary people.

17. Watch Your Government. Also, keep your government on its toes - keep them to their promises of aid. Governments have short memories but the rebuilding will take five years at the very least. It took us 10 years to finish rebuilding our seminary in Flores. Watch how your government's aid is distributed and note who benefits. See what other interests are at work (Mobil-Exxon has big oil interests in Aceh.)

18. Ecological Awareness. Become more ecologically aware and active. The USA has not yet signed the Kyoto Agreement. Push governments at local, regional and national levels to be more ecologically-sensitive. All of us can live more ecologically-friendly lives that do not over-heat the earth. This massive disaster gives us a chance to think about soil, about forests, about water, about food, about others - about love. Don't just send money to a charity; don't simply attend an aid concert. Don't simply open up your conscience to the victims and survivors. Yes, don't stop opening up your heart in prayer to God. But let us also act to reverse the policies, the lifestyles, the decisions that heat the earth with little regard for cooling and greening it. All of us have habits of living and thinking that are unhealthy, that heat the earth and enflame relationships to breaking point. Let us encourage each other and others to break bad habits and join in forming new ones.

[Contact John Prior at:]


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John Prior also sent some excerpts from an eyewitness' diary written up by Ailsa Zainu'ddin, a member of an alliance of Muslim NGOs. Dated 12 January 2005. The reflections give some insight into the cultural complexity of working together in the relief efforts in Sumatra. Certainly, a constant attitude of prophetic dialogue will be needed.

"In other countries affected by the tsunami, the villages inland of the affected areas have played a leading role in providing support to the victims. Aceh has suffered a civil war for the last 25 years, during which time over ten thousand people have been killed by TNI (the Indonesian military) and GAM (the Aceh Liberation Movement). The population is thoroughly terrorised. Villagers in Aceh not affected by the tsunami are too scared to leave their village to offer support to neighbouring religions for fear of later being targeted by TNI or GAM. Although GAM and TNI declared a cease-fire following the tsunami, in most places troops are unwilling to leave their existing zones of operation in case they are taken over by the enemy.

"For many Acehnese this has been one of the first times they have worked together with other Indonesians and their first contact with foreigners. Their outpouring of appreciation has brought tears to the eyes of all volunteers providing relief in Aceh. The disaster of the tsunami has cracked open the military stranglehold on Aceh. Here's praying that this openness is maintained in the months and years ahead.

"Our relief centre is providing community-based health and trauma counselling, especially for women and children. Most of the volunteers are from Aceh and northern Sumatra, and every effort is being made to involve the victims in providing relief, clearing up the mess, counselling, cooking etc. The second round of volunteers from Jakarta will be sent to Aceh at the end of this week, to replace those who are exhausted from one or two weeks in the disaster zone. A team of volunteer film makers will travel to Aceh (this) week to document the lessons learned from community-based disaster management and response. I'll stay only a week. It is exhausting and dangerous being in the disaster area.

"The five billion dollars promised in donations for the tsunami victims sounds like a lot, but it has to help five million people around the shores of the Indian Ocean who lost loved ones, houses, livelihoods, many with serious injuries etc. That's only a thousand dollars each.

"Our housemate, Titi, got back yesterday after a week in Aceh, sick as a dog. She crawled to the doctors to find out that she's got Dengue and Typhoid and was sent straight to hospital. She's recovering OK, but they'll keep her there a week and then she'll have to take it easy for a couple more."

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5. Dominic Emmanuel - MISPLACED PRIDE


Dominic Emmanuel SVD works in communication ministry for the Delhi Archdiocese. He is a frequent television and newspaper commentator. His article, Misplaced Pride was published in the Sunday Pioneer (Delhi, India) on 16 January 2005. It argues against a position held by some in the Indian Government to refuse the help offered by other nations and by private donors.

"The controversy whether India should or should not accept foreign aid to deal with the natural calamity caused by Tsunami waves is still raging. The government's stand on the matter is quite clear that it is quite capable of handling the crisis of this magnanimity and that it does not need any foreign aid. It has, however, left its doors open for future aid when it goes into rehabilitation and reconstruction mode.

"By the time, the Government partially realized that its stand of not accepting foreign aid was creating nearly as much bad odour as generated by Tsunami disaster, it scaled down its stand and said that NGOs could receive foreign funds for their relief work. But a bit of damage had already been done as several foreign NGOs that normally contribute to their counterparts in India during such calamities turned their attention and purse to other countries as in the time of such crisis they had no time to massage the false bloated Indian ego. The countries with no 'ego problems' gladly accepted the offer from donor countries.

"It is difficult for anyone to comprehend as to what the Government is trying to prove and to whom by refusing the aid. One sees nothing sensible in this particular stand which is no different to the mind-set of those in the previous government who propagated the notion that the Indian culture was by far the best in the world and that India could teach the rest of the world a thing or two just about anything under the sun.

"The sacred Indian scriptures speak of Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam, advocating the idea of the whole universe being a family but the message the Government is trying to send is that family members of the universe do not need to be on its side at the time of this deep grief caused by nature. The land that has produced millions of sages who emphasized the path of self-realization through detachment of the Ahambhav (ego), the Government is trying to announce to the world that we are in the process of reversing that age old wisdom. We do not want our Ahambhav to be hurt.

"In a country where nearly 300 million people cannot get a square meal a day; where 100 million children of school going age either roam the streets or are child labourers; where 7000 children die of malnutrition everyday; where 68 people contract the HIV every hour, where Dalit women are paraded naked every so often; where some people are not allowed to enter temples because they are born in a particular caste, what hurting of aham can we talk of? And, surprise, surprise, a large number of people, elated with this false pride of the Government, want to go along with it. It is in trying to perpetuate this aham that we are unable to sympathize and mourn the dead – our own brothers and sisters - by not agreeing to either cancel or scale down the Republic Day parade?

"The whispered explanations for India refusing aid are that since it is bidding for the Security Council, it needs to showcase to the world that it can handle its own affairs well and that it is even capable of offering help to neighbouring countries at such moments. Another argument is that receiving such help will expose us to security risks, particularly in Andaman and Nicobar islands, where we have our military and air-force bases.

"One is pained to learn that such international political considerations should come into play when we are dealing with human tragedies of such proportions. Will membership of the Security Council wipe out the tears of those thousands of orphans and widows? And how could a visit by Kofi Annan or any other foreign dignitary visiting the affected areas jeopardise our security?

"Then there are the obvious contradictions in the Government's stand. One, that while it can not accept any help, the Indian NGO's can. Well! If the Government has enough resources to deal with one of the worst disasters then why should these NGOs not make use of those resources? Two, that it is open to accept the aid at a later stage of reconstruction of coastal area. Why not now? Three, though not directly related to Tsunami, is the call of the Prime Minister for more and more FDI in India. True, FDI is not aid. But the GOI does need large amount of FDI for a faster development of the country. With all the due respect to Dr. Manmohan Singh, who never tires of speaking about the benefits of globalization, how come he refuses to accept 'global' help at such a moment? And finally, when India refuses to accept aid because of its self-respect, how come by the same measure, it offers aid to Sri Lanka and others? Do these not have their own self-respect?"

[Contact Dominic Emmanuel at]

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John Prior added a few further reflections some days after his earlier message. He makes a good point about the way the disaster falls disproportionately on the poor and marginalized.

"It has often been stated – among others by the BBC – that the earthquake and tsunami killed 'indiscriminately' – taking the rich and the poor alike. This seems obvious, and yet in two ways the poor in particular are victims.

"First, apart from expensive seaside resorts in southern Thailand, it is the poor who live in vulnerable places on the coast.

"Second, the poor save their money in local branches of banks in their villages. They have lost all record of their savings both at home and at these village branches. While large businesses will have their assets in the city branches - with computer records in the main branch in Jakarta - in all likelihood the countless smaller savings in the mini-outlets in the villages have no records beyond the nearest town - which has also been destroyed.

"Added to this is the question of identity. In my earlier reflections I mentioned the upcoming trauma of having no identity for most of the dead. I neglected to add the difficulties of the living who now have no identity cards. While the vast majority of people are honest - who is to claim who is alive and who is dead?

"In all probability the poor have not only lost their assets at home, but now have no way of making a credible claim to their bank accounts."

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Both Tom Ascheman SVD and Mary John SSpS will be traveling in the next several weeks. Further information can be found on the website. The next Mission Animation Bulletin will likely be posted after Easter.

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Items for the SVD/SSpS Mission Animation Bulletin Board can be sent to:

Tom Ascheman SVD

Mary John K. SSpS

SVD Generalate Mission Secretary

SSpS Generalate Mission Secretary

Divine Word Missionaries

Holy Spirit Missionary Sisters