WASHINGTON (January 19, 2001) -- The collection for the Church in Latin America will take on new significance
this year because of the devastating earthquake in El Salvador, according to Bishop Edmond Carmody of Corpus Christi, Chairman of the U.S. Bishops' Committee for the Church in Latin America. In addition to the great loss of life, the January 13 disaster caused major damage to churches and rural chapels throughout El Salvador.
"It provides a marvelous opportunity to respond to the Holy Father's call for a Church without borders," Bishop Carmody said. "We must show our support and concern for those who have suffered. We are all part of the body of Christ, and El Salvador is a hurting part of that body at the present time."
In many areas affected by the earthquake, the local church plays a central role in the lives of the people, the Bishop noted. "It is where they have their weddings, their funerals, and so much else," he stated. "When the people are deprived of the churches, it is like taking the heart out of the body," Bishop Carmody said.
The Committee for the Church in Latin America administers the annual collection, which will be taken up in approximately twenty-five percent of U.S. dioceses Sunday, January 28. Other dioceses will take up the collection at a later date. Proceeds are directed to meeting the pressing needs of the Church in Latin America, and to responding in diverse ways to the Holy Father's call, in the Apostolic Exhortation Ecclesia in America, to deepen the bonds of solidarity throughout the hemisphere. This year the Committee will be exploring ways to assist the reconstruction of churches and chapels in El Salvador.
Catholics in the United States have a long history of such generosity, demonstrated in the material contribution they have made to the Church in Latin America and the Caribbean over the course of many years. In 1998 the Committee for the Church in Latin America created a special fund to help the reconstruction of many rural chapels in the countries affected by Hurricane Mitch. At the same time, support for the work of the Church continued through more than 350 ongoing projects in 20 countries.
The earthquake, which measured 7.6 on the open-ended Richter scale, was centered off El Salvador's coast and was felt from Nicaragua to as far north as Mexico City. Most of the damage occurred in and around El Salvador's capital, San Salvador.
The death toll topped 600 and was expected to rise further as rescue workers continued to pull bodies from the rubble. More than 500 were missing and presumed dead. Landslides and mudslides triggered by the earthquake and its after shocks buried some people inside their homes.
Catholic News Service reported that Pope John Paul II said he was deeply saddened by the tragedy and had urged the international community to mobilize quickly.
With respect to emergency relief, Catholic Relief Services, the U.S. Bishops' international relief and development agency, said it had designated funds for plastic sheeting, potable water, blankets, basic food supplies and other emergency relief items. CRS staffers from Guatemala joined CRS staffers in El Salvador to try to channel aid to those most affected.