Catholic Church agencies have joined Tamil Nadu state government in relief efforts to help people affected by Cyclone Gaja in Thanjavur Diocese and Pondicherry-Cuddalore Archdiocese. A devastating cyclone killed more than 40 people and displaced hundreds of others at the weekend as it tore a destructive path across southern India, severely damaging farmland and buildings including the region’s most revered Marian shrine.
As reported by Vatican news, “More than 122,000 people have been evacuated and are in 351 relief camps, while rescue teams are helping others in villages, cut off by the storm,” said John Arokiaraj of Caritas India, the Catholic Church’s social action arm in the region. The worst-hit areas were in Tanjavur Diocese. “The livelihoods of our people are destroyed when their fishing equipment or livestock and farmlands were destroyed,” diocesan chancellor Fr. John Zacharias said.
More than 30 churches, including the renowned Basilica of Our Lady of Good Health at Velakanni, some 60 chapels and 15 schools were also damaged in the cyclone, Fr. John said. Rector of the Marian Shrine, Father Maria Anotony Prabhakar, said the storm blew away a crossatop one of shrine’s two towers. Despite the damage, hundreds of people were taking shelter in the buildings within the shrine compound, while 15 other Catholic parishes were also providing shelter and assisting people, church officials said.