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Catholics respond generously to tsunami catastrophe

Justin Tardiff | Wednesday, January 12, 2005

The response of Catholic Relief Services (CRS) to the tsunamis in Southeast Asia indicates that the Catholic tradition of giving is stronger than ever, several Notre Dame faculty and students said.To date, CRS has donated over $25 million to the relief effort.”It is rich in our tradition that Catholics, regardless of where we are or what we do, are in union with our brothers and sisters and have an obligation to be in solidarity with them,” Father Bill Lies, Center for Social Concerns director, said.Lies said that the principles of solidarity, option for the poor and the common good are all values central to the Catholic Church.”For all of us who have lived through such a catastrophe, it calls on us just as human beings to express solidarity. For Catholics and Christians, it calls on our faith tradition, with Jesus Christ being close to those who were poor,” said Father Richard Warner, director of Campus Ministry.”For Notre Dame students, living through one of the world’s worst catastrophes, they will always remember how they responded. Our response should be in accordance with our beliefs.”The tsunami relief effort provides an opportunity for followers of major world religions to come together and work toward a common goal, Warner said.”Our call is to support poor people and help them face their needs always, and to do even more when the need is greater, when our means and possibilities are greater,” Warner said.Warner also noted the importance of prayer in such a large-scale catastrophe.”While it’s important to give money, out of a sense of solidarity, it’s important to pray for those who died,” he said.Sarah Bates, one of the chief organizers of the Notre Dame community tsunami relief drive, said that the Catholic ideas of charity, social justice and social awareness were important in choosing CRS as the recipient of the donations.”It goes along with our mission as a Catholic university to pick a Catholic relief organization. As a Catholic organization, they obviously support the same ideals that our university supports,” Bates said.Warner said that CRS was chosen because it already has workers on site in 90 countries, constituting the largest non-governmental agency in the U.S. The CRS donates 94 cents of every dollar directly to the cause, a high number compared to other organizations, he said.”Catholicism is most certainly imbued in our relief efforts,” said Elizabeth Griffin, director of media relations for Catholic Relief Services. “However, just because we have ‘Catholic’ in our name, people assume we aid only Catholics or proselytize, but we don’t. We don’t care what religion, color or political persuasion you are – if you need help, CRS is there.”Griffin said that a few days after the tsunami, the president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops sent a letter to all bishops requesting collections to be taken up in their dioceses for CRS.”That money is just starting to come in,” Griffin said, explaining that collections were taken at Masses the past two Sundays.Additionally, CRS sent direct response requests to thousands of past Catholic donors and is doing advocacy work with parishes, dioceses and Catholic colleges and universities on a one-to-one level.Although donations to relief organizations are inconsistent, flooding in after disasters and then dropping substantially over time, many think that the sudden response to the tsunami was natural. “It would be great if people were as generous year-round, but it’s a blessing to see people respond in a situation like this,” Lies said.Lies said that the outpouring of relief was not excessive, but necessary.”I don’t think we begin to appreciate the enormity of this disaster for Southeast Asia,” he said.Warner said that many Christian denominations are more generous under normal circumstances than Catholics, which could be due to the fact that so many Catholics pay to send their children to private schools.”However, at a time with unusual circumstances, most people are equal [donators], recognize a human tragedy and want to do something about it,” Warner said.To date, the U.S. government has sent over $350 million to aid in the tsunami relief effort.

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