Papal Aide Tells of Grimness and Greatness in Salvador

Envoy Buoyed by Solidarity Amid Misery

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VATICAN CITY, FEB. 1, 2001 ( A papal envoy sent to tour quake-damaged El Salvador was saddened by the misery he saw but elated by the spirit of solidarity amid the rescue efforts.

«I am still under shock over this very great tragedy,» Archbishop Paul Josef Cordes said when he returned to Rome from the Central American country that is still struggling after the Jan. 13 earthquake.

Archbishop Cordes, president of the Pontifical Council «Cor Unum,» departed as a special envoy Jan. 23 to get firsthand information on the devastation.

While there, he expressed the Holy Father´s closeness to the people and made a symbolic papal donation of $100,000, to inspire all Christians to come to the aid of the quake´s victims.

The German archbishop met with thousands of affected families, with the country´s bishops, with Salvadoran President Francisco Flores, and with directors of organizations involved in the rescue work.

The archbishop saw cities that were leveled, such as San Agustin, where 95% of the buildings have been destroyed, turning it into a ghost town. The city of Santiago de Maria, where the archbishop visited in the company of the apostolic nuncio, suffered the same fate.

Hardest hit was Santa Tecla. Television pictures worldwide have shown this capital neighborhood buried by the landslide caused by the earthquake.

The official death toll stood at 726. There are 4,440 people injured, 118,157 homes damaged, and about 600,000 people affected.

The Church is working primarily through Caritas-El Salvador to bring relief to the victims. The group is offering provisional shelter and food to 6,000 families. During the first few days after the quake, Caritas was helping 15,000 families.

As head of «Cor Unum,» Archbishop Cordes´ mission is to encourage and coordinate the work of Catholic charity organizations worldwide. Caritas´ institutions throughout the world are mobilizing to send aid to Caritas-El Salvador.

«Cor Unum´s» president was overwhelmed by the generosity of the people, both locally and internationally. Caritas-Spain collected $7 million for the quake victims, for instance, while the Church in Italy sent $1.5 million. Neighboring countries such as Honduras and Guatemala sent financial help as well as soldiers to assist in rescue operations.

«I think these tragedies demonstrate the need to help the poor,» Archbishop Cordes said over Vatican Radio. «Up to 1992, El Salvador endured a very bitter civil war between the National Republican Alliance party, and the Farabundo Martí Front for National Liberation. The tensions fanned by the war still exist and block the distribution of aid. Perhaps the people are too politicized. I have seen that politics can be an obstacle to aid in a situation like this.»

«However, one can see great energy,» he added. «These people, who have suffered many catastrophes, began to work immediately. From the first moment, they began to clean up the rubble and one could see them work with great enthusiasm. I saw few sad faces. With the [coming of the] sun, the majority seem to forget rapidly.

«For this reason, not only did I see man´s misery in this trip but, above all, I saw greatness.»

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