WASHINGTON (January 10, 2002) -- In response to the series of devastating earthquakes in January and February of last year, which damaged or destroyed nearly 400 chapels in remote parts of El Salvador, the U.S. Bishops' Committee on the Church in Latin America has established a $1.5 million fund to aid in their repair and reconstruction.
"The church is the heart and the soul of communities in Latin America," said Bishop Edmond Carmody of Corpus Christi (TX), Chairman of the Committee. "When the earthquake – and its aftershocks – hit a year ago, it not only destroyed those communities' place of worship, it destroyed the focal point of their life together. Thanks to the generosity of Catholics across the United States, the bishops agreed that helping the Salvadorans to rebuild would be a clear sign of our solidarity with our brothers and sisters there."
The funds will be drawn from the Bishops' annual Collection for the Church in Latin America, which has been taken in dioceses across the United States since 1966. The national date set for this year's collection is January 26-27, and about one fourth of the nation's dioceses will take the collection that weekend. Other dioceses take the collection at other times throughout the year.
Miami Auxiliary Bishop Thomas Wenski, a member of the Committee, visited El Salvador in December to survey the damage and to meet with the Salvadoran bishops and directors of the diocesan reconstruction committees. Jesuit Father John Swope, Executive Director of the Secretariat for the Church in Latin America at the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, accompanied him.
"These chapels are in extremely isolated parts of El Salvador," said Bishop Wenski. "Reconstruction aid from other sources, like the United Nations, that might be available elsewhere in El Salvador, won't make it to these remote villages. In Ecclesia in America Pope John Paul II called all of us in the American hemisphere to live in closer solidarity with one another. Helping to reconstruct these tiny chapels is one response to that call."
The $1.5 million will be apportioned to each of El Salvador's eight dioceses based on the degree of damage they sustained in a series of earthquakes, the first of which struck on January 13, 2001. Approximately one-quarter of the damage was centered in the Archdiocese of San Salvador. (See the attached table.) Grants will be awarded by the Committee after reviewing each project proposal.
According to Father Swope, an award of $3,000 to $5,000 will be sufficient to repair most of the damaged chapels, and grants of less than $12,000 will be sufficient to reconstruct chapels completely destroyed by the quake. He said the Committee's funding would be limited to basic construction needs – walls and roofs, for example – while the local community will be required to contribute the labor, finishing work, decorating, and related costs.
The first earthquake in January, 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.