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Earthquake prompts regional detente

Neighbours are setting aside traditional enmity to help victims

Poster of collection to help Japanese people Poster of collection to help Japanese people
  • Stephen Hong, Seoul and ucanews.com reporters
  • Korea
  • March 15, 2011
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Japan's closest neighbours have begun to set aside long-term animosities in an effort to help the region most affected by last week's devastating earthquake.

With a drive to help Japan spreading across South Korea, a bishop has asked to forget the historical animosity between Korea and Japan and pray for and help people suffering after the largest earthquake ever recorded in Japan.

In Beijing, China's premier said “we fully empathise with how the Japanese people feel now” and Chinese church organisations began sending aid to the stricken area.

Bishop Lazzaro You Heung-sik of Daejeon said in a message issued yesterday that "Japan is the country of which we have bad memories in the past."

But he stressed that "we, Catholics who believe in God and live His words, should pray, help and love our neighboring brothers," asking to pray that the Japanese people can overcome this disaster and become closer with Koreans.

On the internet, where many collections for Japan have been actively conducted, Koreans have been posting messages to cheer up the Japanese, such as: 'Japan, you can do it. Go for it!', 'So close, yet so far. Nevertheless, we are one family on the globe,' and 'We are neighbors who can help each other when the other is in need.'

Bishop Peter Kang U-il of Cheju, president of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of Korea (CBCK), sent a message yesterday to Archbishop Ikenaga Jun, president of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of Japan and said Korean bishops wish to express their solidarity in a concrete form of assistance.

Accordingly, CBCK asked all 16 dioceses in South Korea to send financial aid for Japan to the CBCK by March 18.

Also, Caritas Corea will donate US$100,000 in emergency aid, including US$50,000 from Seoul archdiocese, to Caritas Japan.

Father Daisuke Narui, executive director of Caritas Japan, reported that Sendai diocese has been the worst damaged among the Saitama, Sapporo, Sendai and Tokyo dioceses affected by the quake.

He said that a priest had died in the quake and accompanying tsunami but they have yet to check if other priests and Catholics were safe.

In the region worst hit by the quake, the Red Cross estimates that 430,000 people are in emergency accommodation, having to survive freezing conditions with no power and little water. Red Cross medical staff have reported cases of hypothermia.

World Vision spokeswoman Mitsuko Sobata said logistics have been complicated by rationing of fuel which is hampering their task of delivering 4,500 blankets and thousands of bottles of water to one town in the area.

The death toll is expected to rise sharply, with more than 10,000 people still unaccounted for, according to reports.

Extending the mood of rapprochement throughout the region, the (Catholic) Jinde Charities in northern Hebei province have sent a letter to Bishop Isao Kikuchi of Nigata, president of Caritas Japan, to express sympathy and condolences towards Japanese clergy, faithful and the many victims.

The national charitable organization also offered an initial US$10,000 as “a symbol of fraternity” to support Caritas Japan’s relief efforts, said the letter from Jinde.

China's state news agency Xinhua reports showed clearly that Beijing is keen to take the opportunity to set aside for once the traditional enmity between China and Japan in the wake of the quake.

In a news conference on March 14, premier Wen Jiabao said: “I want to use today's opportunity to extend our deep condolences for the loss of lives in this disaster and to express our sincere sympathy to the Japanese people.

“China is also a country that is prone to earthquake disasters and we fully empathise with how the Japanese people feel now,” he said. “The Chinese rescue team arrived in Japan yesterday and we have provided relief supplies to Japan. We will continue to provide further necessary aid to Japan in accordance with their needs.”

In central China, Bishop Anthony Dang Mingyan of Xi’an and Father Stephen Chen Ruixue, director of the diocese’s Catholic Social Service Center, have sent consolatory letters via email to their friends in Japan, including Chinese faithful who work there, Japanese priests and a layperson who studied in Xi’an years ago.

“We expressed our concern and prayers for their safety, and asked if there is anything we can offer to help,” said Father Chen. The diocese also plans to dedicate requiem Masses for the deceased on the seventh day after the quake, according to Chinese custom.

Across mainland China, many parishes have said special prayers for the Japanese victims.

KO13639.1644

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