Peru's Believers Hold onto Faith amid Mourning

( [email protected] ) Aug 20, 2007 10:32 AM EDT
Hundreds have died from Peru’s magnitude-8 earthquake including an estimated 200 funeral attendants who died when the church roof collapsed. What wasn’t lost, however, was the faith of many surviving believers.
Catholic priest Alfonso Berrade, right, places his hand on the head of a representation of Peruvian saint San Martin de Porres while attending mass at the main square in Pisco, Peru, Sunday, Aug. 19, 2007. Berrade is the head of the San Clemente church which collapsed killing more than a hundred faithful during the earthquake that shook the southern coast of Peru Aug. 15. (Photo: AP Images / Martin Mejia)

Hundreds have died from Peru’s magnitude-8 earthquake including an estimated 200 funeral attendants who died when the church roof collapsed. What wasn’t lost, however, was the faith of many surviving believers.

Coffins strewn the streets as nearby rescuers dug among the rubbles of San Clemente church in hard-hit downtown Pisco, Peru. Despite overwhelming devastation and reasons for mourning, nuns and a priest stood quietly and calmly outside the ruins of the 300-year-old church waiting for word of two of their sisters who were buried in the rubble, reported CNN correspondent Harris Whitbeck.

“I couldn’t understand how this man and these women of the cloth could remain so calm, their faith so apparently unshaken while they contemplated the ruins of the church and the loss of people so dear to them,” said Whitebeck. “I asked them about that faith.”

The priest responded, “It’s difficult times like this that it exists.”

Last week’s magnitude-8.0 quake, which struck the southern coast of Peru Wednesday evening, killed at least 540 people and injured another 1,500 people. The quake – said to be the worst in over 30 years – left the only highway on the coast severely damage, cut off electricity and water, and downed phone services in most of southern Peru.

From the ruins of the collapsed Pisco church, 148 bodies had been removed, said Firefighter Guillermo Merino, according to the Associated Press. Included in that figure were the entire church choir and 15 family members of the deceased, CNN reported.

“The group spent hours waiting in the dark, cold night and into the morning never questioning – simply accepting what was and never doubting that their church would some day be rebuilt,” reported the CNN correspondent in amazement.

Meanwhile, in other parts of Pisco, the situation was desperate and more chaotic with reports of rampant looting. Tens of thousands had no access to fresh water and many in rural communities still had not been reached by rescuers, according to The Associated Press.

“The situation is probably worse than first imagined,” said Dominic Nutt, part of the emergency assessment team in Peru for the aid agency Save the Children, according to AP.

In Ica, desperate survivors attempted to attack a building housing several relief workers on Friday to reach supplies.

“The building was attacked twice during the night, but fortunately the windows were barred, so they weren’t able to get in,” Aaron Skrocki, emergency program manager for Catholic Relief Services in South America said Saturday, according to The Washington Post. “Because of the lack of electricity here, it’s difficult to tell whether the group are five people or 50.”

In the midst of urgent needs, Christian humanitarian groups have risen to the call and are on the ground delivering aid and assessing affected areas.

World Vision has dispatched 200 blankets, 500 pieces of warm clothing, 10 stoves, and medicine to survivors in affected areas, the international humanitarian organization reported Friday.

In addition, WV sent three assessment teams from its office in Peru to the worst-affected Ica region, which includes the towns of Pisco, Chincha, and Canete.

Meanwhile, members of Action by Churches Together in Peru are evaluating the damage and needs while the United Methodist Committee on Relief has offered to aid the Methodist Church of Peru.

“Please know of our continuing prayers for the people of Peru as the recovery effort begins,” wrote the Rev. Sam W. Dixon, interim top staff executive of UMCOR, in an e-mail to the Rev. Jorge Bravo, bishop of the Methodist Church of Peru.

Peruvian President Alan Garcia estimates that at least 80,000 people were affected, mostly through the loss or damage of homes.