.- After a massive 7.9 magnitude earthquake on Monday, priests in the devastated southwestern province of Sichuan are trying to help survivors and assess the extent of damage and loss of life in their communities. Bishops and priests are asking for relief aid and prayers, while Catholic organizations are soliciting donations to help quake victims.
China’s Ministry of Civil Affairs said at a press conference in Beijing on Tuesday afternoon that the quake has killed 11,921 people and destroyed 500,000 buildings in Sichuan and its neighboring provinces.
Local priests told UCA News that information is still incomplete, in part because telephone systems were disrupted and roads damaged. They confirmed at least one church collapsed and dozens of others were partially damaged by the earthquake, which measured 7.9 on the Richter scale.
Father Simon Li Zhigang, administrator of the Diocese of Chengdu, told UCA News that he could not reach by phone the priests in Wenchuan, where there are about 100 Catholics, or Beichuan, where there are several hundred.
The priest said that a layman who worked at a church in Mianzhu was killed by falling rocks and debris, while two other laypeople were seriously injured. Two churches in the diocese had partially collapsed, while one was completely flattened. Another thirty have been damaged.
In the Diocese of Nanchon, about 150 miles from the epicenter of the earthquake, Sister Wang Yan told UCA News that the activities room added to their church building shook for seven minutes, casting almost everything to the floor.
“I thought it was the end of the world,” she said.
Dozens of laypeople were staying in the wood-built Nanchong city church because they feared sleeping in their damaged brick houses, she said.
Father Xie Bangyong in the Diocese of Chongquing said that priests had divided into groups to see if area Catholics were safe and to assess damage to old churches. All priests, nuns, and laypeople were safe, he said, though a non-Catholic church maintenance worker’s leg was broken during the quake. Fissures had also appeared in some old churches.
Auxiliary Bishop Paul He Zeqing of Wanzhou said that a residence for priests and another for nuns in Liangping had become unsafe. “Other churches, all newly built, are not affected,” he said.
Bishop He led Catholics in prayer for the quake victims at the Tuesday morning Mass. He also urged them to donate to relief efforts.
In eastern China, the Diocese of Shanghai has donated 1 million yuan, about $143,000, for earthquake relief. Bishop of Shanghai Aloysius Jin Luxian directed all parish priests to pray for victims and survivors during special Eucharistic Adoration sessions scheduled for Sunday. He also told parish priests to donate Mass collections for that day to relief efforts.
Underground Bishop Joseph Wei Jingyi, from Qiqihar in the northeastern Heilongjiang province, wrote and circulated a prayer he wrote asking God to look after those spiritually and physically wounded by the disaster.
In southern China, the Tianrun Service in the Diocese of Jiangmen urged Catholics through its website to donate medical aid, clothes, tents and money it said it would send through the government's civil affairs department or other charity organizations, UCA News reports.
The northern China-based Jinde Charities, a national Catholic non-governmental organization, has also appealed on its website for prayers and donations for earthquake survivors.