Open letter on Canadian response to the tsunami disaster

Monday, January 03 2005

Most Rev. Brendan M. O'BrienTo all people of good will:

Individual Canadians, Canadian relief organizations and humanitarian agencies, as well as the Government of Canada and various provincial governments, have been most generous in their immediate responses to the Boxing Day tidal wave disaster in the Indian Ocean that has left more than 150,000 confirmed dead and millions in urgent need of assistance. Canadian media have been undaunted in reminding us of the extent of the tragedy and of the urgent needs of our brothers and sisters in Southeast Asia.

Safe drinking water, emergency shelter, food and life-sustaining medical assistance are in immediate demand. But the needs will also be long-term – to care for children and the most vulnerable, to rebuild homes and infrastructure, to re-establish the means of livelihood and, just as importantly, not only to restore but to improve the local economies and to work for social justice. Canadian generosity has to be as long-lasting as the needs, especially once the television cameras and Western journalists have left the scene. These long-term efforts should include not only a closer look at trade pacts and debt forgiveness – with the Canadian government already setting a good example with respect to the latter – but improvements to tsunami warning systems as well as all stand-by emergency preparation systems, including in our own country.

At the same time that I encourage and congratulate Canadians in their generosity to and involvement in Southeast Asia, I also invite everyone to be in solidarity in staying around for the long term to respond to development needs. Canadian Catholics will be participating in special collections for the Southeast Asia emergency which in many parishes will be 9 January 2005. However, as is our custom, during this coming Lent, Canadian Catholics will also be invited to contribute to the continuing development needs of all people around the world.

Canadians have a wonderful choice of hard-working and dedicated development agencies and emergency assistance organizations from which to choose. Like many of the other Christian Churches in Canada, Catholics in our country have their own national development agency – the Canadian Catholic Organization for Development and Peace – which works collaboratively with the Canadian International Development Agency and with other organizations to respond to emergencies as well as to long-term development needs. In the case of Development and Peace as well as another 21 major Canadian aid organizations, the Government of Canada has offered to match funds for projects funded by donations received during the emergency appeal for Southeast Asia relief.

Development and Peace is the Canadian member of Caritas Internationalis, the Rome-based Catholic relief, development and social service organization that is present in more than 200 countries and territories. This means that donations for Southeast Asia will be invested by trusted local partnerships – such as Caritas India and Caritas Sri Lanka – that are already in place and operating in each of the Southeast Asian countries, and which will continue to be there in the future. To date, the Caritas Internationalis network has raised Cdn $42 million for the Southeast Asia disaster.

Whatever aid agency individual Canadians choose to work with, this is an urgent moment to respond generously. But even more importantly, this is a privileged opportunity to deepen the life-time attitude of caring for and loving one’s neighbour, which with the love of God is central to the teaching of Jesus.

+ Most Reverend Brendan M. O’Brien
Archbishop of St. John’s
Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops

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