As rescue efforts continue, in the wake of Saturday's earthquake in Pakistani and Indian Kashmir, Churches in both countries are rushing to support the survivors. Archbishop Lawrence Saldanha, of Lahore, President of the Bishops' Conference of Pakistan, said: ""We are still deeply shocked and traumatised by the tragedy. The death toll rises by the hour and loss of life and damage to structures is vast. It is feared that as many as 40,000 people have been killed and the same number injured. The country has never known such a catastrophe. We have expressed our sympathy and closeness to the families and the homeless assuring them of our help and prayers". "On Sunday at all Masses, special prayers were said for the dead and the homeless. The Bishops' Conference has urged Catholics to be generous in offering material and spiritual assistance. We have already collected 500,000 Pakistan Rupees which will go the Rescue Committee. We have suggested that Catholics and all men and women of goodwill offer a day's swages to help the stricken people. Today, 11 October I will lead special prayers for the victims" the Archbishop said: Meanwhile local Catholic aid efforts are being co-ordinated by Caritas Pakistan. Archbishop Saldanha said: "We are sending volunteers to assist the homeless and doctors to attend to the numerous injured people. Christian aid agencies are making every effort to help the affected people, mainly Muslims. A few Catholics were among those who lost their life but only a few because there are hardly any Christians in the most affected area. However Catholic schools, institutes and churches are said to have been damaged. Reports are still incomplete. We will know more in the next few days". The Catholic Bishops of India also expressed sympathy and solidarity with the victims of the earthquake. Catholic organisations in India have joined rescue workers and aid agencies with Jammu-Srinagar diocese coordinating efforts: volunteers, medical personnel and medicines and supplies of food and clothing continue to arrive from all over India. The diocese is already assisting 2,000 homeless people but the number continue to rise particularly in the Kashmir districts of Kupwara, Baramulla and Poonch. In 54 villages, according to local Church sources, 90% of the homes are wrecked, roads and communications have been cut and it is difficult to get aid where it is needed. Caritas India has appealed to Catholics to give generously. Rescue teams are coordinated by Fr Alex Vadakumthala who said: "Food, clothing and medical care are the most urgent commodities at the moment. Families have lost loved ones, homes, possessions. Survivors now face a situation of dire necessity". Aid is on the way from Caritas Internationalis. In the meantime the Bishop of Jammu-Srinagar, Peter Celestine Elampassery accompanied by priests and religious is visiting the affected areas to assess needs and priorities. When the quake happened the Bishop was at St Joseph's School Srinagar for the school's Centenary celebrations. When the tremor came the Bishop was with the pupils and staff in the courtyard. No one was hurt and the school was not damaged. Source: Fides/ICN
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