Its faithful are very few in this majority Hindu nation, but Nepal’s Catholic Church—the nerve center for the response of a full range of international Catholic charities—has been on the forefront of extending aid to the victims of the devastating April 25 earthquake and a series of significant aftershocks. More than 8,500 people have been confirmed dead, with some 500,000 homes destroyed.
Catholics number fewer than 10,000 in the majority Hindu nation of more than 28 million people. As far as is known to-date, only one Catholic died—9-year-old Michele Gale of Banyatar parish in Kathmandu—but several hundred evangelical Christians perished when their church collapsed when the first quake hit.
“Nonetheless, 274 families were directly affected by the quake. Among these families more than half of them had their houses totally destroyed. They are (living) under tarpaulins; the others will have to arrange for major repairs before they can return to their homes,” Bishop Paul Simick, who is in charge of the Vicariate of Nepal, told international Catholic charity Aid to Church in Need.
With the rainy season just weeks away, the Church’s priority is to arrange temporary shelter for homeless families, as well as to provide education assistance for the children. The Church is also aiming to oversee the construction of permanent shelters, the operation of trauma counseling centers, and to generate opportunities for the disabled to improve their socio-economic situation.
One hard hit Catholic community is that of St Augustine’s parish at Banyatar, perched on a hilltop overlooking Kathmandu. More than a dozen Catholic families along with a dozen non-Christians have found temporary shelter in the church, their homes having been destroyed or showing dangerous cracks.
Ongoing aftershocks are making matters worse. “We have more refugees now,” said Father Anil Beck, parish priest of Banyatar. A powerful quake measuring 7.3 on the Richter scale shook the confidence of thousands of quake victims, while Father Beck pointed out that “more houses have developed cracks now and more families have taken shelter in our church compound”—but people are afraid to spend the night there.
The community did have reason to celebrate the unlikely rescue of 4-year-old Sujina Ghale, a Catholic girl. She was presumed dead when her body was pulled out April 25 of the rubble of her home in the remote village of Tipling, a full two hours after the big quake struck. Her mother Chaju, who had gone to graze the cattle in early morning that day, as usual, rushed home only to find Sujina among dead bodies slated for cremation by the villagers at dusk.
Firmly believing that her child was still alive, the mother pleaded with the village health worker to check and he found that her body was still warm. Authorities arranged for the badly bruised girl to be airlifted to a Kathmandu hospital. Now known as the ‘miracle girl,’ Sujina is rapidly recovering.