April 27, 2015 — A 7.8-magnitude earthquake that rocked a mountainous region near Kathmandu, Nepal, on April 25 has killed over 4,000 people, injured over 6,000 and destroyed centuries-old temples and thousands of homes. “We don’t know the real situation in a lot of areas because big buildings have collapsed,” said Jesuit Father Pius Perumana, head of Caritas Nepal, an international Catholic aid organization that responds to humanitarian crises such as natural disasters and conflict.
The 68 Jesuits serving in Nepal are safe. The Jesuits there serve five schools, a college and social ministries that support disadvantaged young people in Kathmandu, Pokhara, Deonia and Maheshpur. Many of the Jesuits in Nepal were in the remote village of Okhaldhunga to celebrate an ordination when the earthquake struck. The Jesuits are now trying to make their way back to Kathmandu over blocked and damaged roads.
Jesuit Father Augustine Thomas, principal of St. Xavier's College in Kathmandu, had remained in Kathmandu and reported on Sunday that there was no major damage to Jesuit buildings and no causalities reported among the religious houses. The schools have opened their grounds for camping as people are staying outdoors since the aftershocks are so powerful.
Fr. Thomas wrote, “I spent my night in the car and woke up with a good shake this morning at 5 a.m. [Sunday]. The aftermath is still on. At the moment the local communities are involved in the rescue work. So many people to help but they are digging the collapsed buildings with hand tools, which is not very fast. Please continue to pray for the people of Nepal.”
Vast tent cities sprung up in Kathmandu for people displaced by the earthquake as strong aftershocks continued over the weekend. Caritas Nepal has been providing tarps to offer protection from the rain and cold temperatures. “We are distributing the necessary things — tarpaulin, tents and food. People are in dire need because it is already the third day after the quake,” said Fr. Perumana.
Fr. Perumana reported that there is an urgent need for shelter: “What the people need immediately is shelter. Temperatures are dropping at night and there is also rain. Children are sleeping outside at night. It is really traumatic for them. We’re providing candles and matches so people have light at night as the electricity is out.”
Pope Francis offered his prayers to all those affected by the earthquake and encouraged rescue and emergency workers in their efforts. "I pray for the victims, those wounded and for all those who suffer because of this calamity," Pope Francis said after reciting the "Regina Coeli" prayer with visitors gathered Sunday in St. Peter's Square.
Before leading people in praying the Hail Mary together, he expressed his hope that those affected by the disaster would "have the support of fraternal solidarity." [Sources: CNS, Jesuits in Britain, Caritas, CBS]
This story will be updated as more details, including how to help, become available.