Global Solidarity: How Catholic Communities from Bangladesh to South Korea are Helping Earthquake Victims and Fighting for Human Rights

Joaquim Magalhães de Castro

In a demonstration of pure altruism, various Catholic communities in one of the poorest countries in the world, Bangladesh, continue to help the victims of the earthquakes in Turkey and Syria, now that it has been a month-and-a-half since the disaster.

Accustomed to dealing with the moods of nature, which at regular intervals trap them with typhoons, floods and other natural calamities, the Bangladeshis do not forget the international solidarity they always receive. And, now, it is those who have the least who are ready to extend a hand to those in need, thus repaying “the help received”. Every Sunday (and it has been like this for more than a month), during the Eucharist, prayers are said for the victims and appeals are made for donations in all the parishes and dioceses of Bangladesh, with the proceeds of this extraordinary collection being sent to the churches of the affected countries.

Subrato B. Gomes, parish priest of Nossa Senhora do Rosário, Tejgaon neighborhood, Dhaka – with around 15,000 souls, the largest Catholic community in the country – invites his faithful to pray the rosary every night for the victims of the earthquake, “so they may find consolation and overcome such a terrible ordeal”. Subir Corraya (Correia), one of the parishioners of that community made up mostly of Portuguese descendants, also expressed “solidarity and closeness” with the people of Turkey and Syria, assuming the pain and suffering of those people as his own.

Both the Bangladesh Christian Association, led by Nirmol Rozario, as well as Uttorbanga Christian Bohumukhi Samabay Samity, a small financial institution managed by Catholic Tarcisius Palma, do not intend to let the ongoing solidarity campaign fade away. It maybe recalled that the government of Bangladesh maintained a team of 51 people in the theater of operations (soldiers, firefighters, civil defense personnel) and offered 12,000 tents, 10,000 blankets and tons of food aid.

On March 13, the ‘Justice and Peace’ Commission of the Episcopal Conference of South Korea officially presented to the Korean Parliament a petition for the abolition of the death penalty and introduction of alternative sentences.

In South Korea, too, local Catholics are still mobilized. Caritas is campaigning during this Lent period for an emergency fund of US$200,000 to support earthquake victims. Caritas/Korea has always relied on what its leaders call the “unlimited and proverbial generosity of the Korean faithful”. Among the donors – in what is described as “a moving run of solidarity” – are the Seoul Catholic Social Welfare Society, the Cardinal Jin-seok Jeong Missionary Support Association, the Association of Korean Catholic Superiors, as well as numerous parishes, associations, schools and even Catholic kindergartens.

Speaking to the Fides news agency, the President of Caritas/Korea, Monsignor Shin Chin-chul assured that emergency funds will be donated through Caritas/Turkey and Caritas/Syria with the aim to provide emergency shelter, food and water. In the hardest-hit cities of Iskenderun, Antakya and Mersin, volunteers distribute food and health kits. This type of emergency assistance extends to Istanbul and Izmir, cities where many displaced people have moved to. On the Syrian side, Caritas/Syria focuses mainly on Aleppo and Hama distributing food, medicine, water and other essential items, “while planning medium and long-term support operations”.

In the first month after the cataclysm, the Church in South Korea has raised more than $290,000 for humanitarian aid. Meanwhile, and following its path “in the name and defense of Life”, the ‘Justice and Peace’ Commission of the Episcopal Conference of South Korea officially presented to the Korean Parliament, on March 13, a petition for the abolition of the death penalty and introduction of alternative sentences. The petition is signed by all 25 Korean bishops, priests, religious and lay people from 16 dioceses, for a total of 75,843 signatures.

Catholics remember that, in recent years, nine other bills on the abolition of the death penalty were presented to the National Assembly, but without any result. The last executions in South Korea took place on December 30, 1997, when 23 people were hanged. Since then, and on two occasions, in 2020 and 2022, Seoul has voted in favor of a ‘moratorium on the death penalty’ at the United Nations General Assembly. Invoking the deep respect and inviolability of all human life, including that of ‘Cain’, “the Republic of Korea must move beyond the moratorium on executions to become a country that completely abolishes the death penalty”, states the note of the Catholic bishops, asking the State to “break the vicious circle of violence”.

“It is a well-known fact, confirmed by numerous studies, that the death penalty has no deterrent effect on crime. To reduce the incidence of crime in society, it is necessary to develop preventive policies to solve structural problems, economic and social contradictions of our society and identify the root causes of the crime itself, developing the creation of a safety net throughout society,” reads the note from the Catholic Bishops. By submitting the petition to parliament, the Catholic Church in Korea hopes for “an in-depth parliamentary debate on the bill, which may lead to the abolition of the death penalty once and for all.”