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HK Catholics help to fund rebuilding of quake-damaged churches


May 20 2009

A year after the Sichuan earthquake, a group of lay Catholics in the Hong Kong diocese is appealing for funds to support church rebuilding in the disaster-hit areas.


The website of the Sichuan Catholic
Churches Reconstruction Fund

The Sichuan Catholic Churches Reconstruction Fund is off to a good start with a donation of HK$190,000 (US$24,500) that the Paris Foreign Missions (MEP) collected for them.

John Wong Bo-lung, an architect and one of the organizers of the fund, explained that the MEP enjoys tax-exemption status and is willing to help.

This was invaluable, he said, as it will take time for the newly set-up fund to apply to the Hong Kong government for the same tax status.

The MEP missionaries have links to the Sichuan region, having preached in southwestern China in the 19th century until foreign missioners were expelled from the mainland in the 1950s.

The fund is now cooperating with mainland dioceses hit by the 8.0-magnitude quake and numerous aftershocks.

More than 5 million houses and buildings were destroyed or seriously damaged in the quake of May 12, 2008, leaving millions of families homeless.

While money and other resources from all over the world have been put into rebuilding homes and other buildings across the disaster areas, the Catholic fund is targeting reconstruction of churches that collapsed.

Chengdu diocese, situated at the epicenter of the quake, suffered the greatest loss among all dioceses in Sichuan province, its neighboring Chongqing municipality and Shaanxi province. Of the diocese´s 59 churches, 25 collapsed and 22 were seriously damaged. Only three newer churches were unaffected.

According to Father Peter Wu Xianliang, director of the diocese´s Church Restoration Office, the local Church has been collecting donations, while some other dioceses and charity organizations have offered help.

Those limited resources, however, cannot meet the huge cost of reconstruction, he said.

Wong told UCA News that since donations are so far limited, the fund would start with smaller projects at less than 1 million yuan first.

He said the fund was starting at a disadvantage because it had been established so late. Many people had already made donations for other reconstruction and relief efforts.

News reports about misuse or abuse of donations have also caused doubts among donors, he said.

Audrey Donnithorne, the head of the fund, told UCA News about some ways to ensure funds were used properly and not wasted.

"We will give the money by installments," said the Sichuan-born British woman. The fund will also cooperate with the Hong Kong-based Engineers Without Borders, which was established after the Sichuan quake, to carry out necessary investigations, she said.

The fund, which was given permission by Cardinal Joseph Zen Ze-kiun, the former prelate of Hong Kong, to solicit donations from Catholics early this year, has set up a website ( It has also distributed brochures to local parishes as well as overseas.

"I have heard favorable comments about the website and it will be increasingly useful when we have more information to put on it," said Donnithorne, a retired professor living in Hong Kong.

Meanwhile, the local diocese´s yearlong fund-raising campaign for the Sichuan disaster will end on May 31. It has entrusted Caritas-Hong Kong to oversee parish and individual donations.