Survivors turn to religion for solace, sustenance and shelter

PUBLISHED : Monday, 02 June, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 02 June, 2008, 12:00am

Muslim cleric Sha Fuquan has the answer when his followers ask him why an earthquake struck Sichuan province , killing 16 members of the Hui ethnic group in Dujiangyan city where his mosque is located.

'From a religious point of view, many people have done wrong. Allah will remind you. You can only accept it and know how to change,' he said.

From Islam to Catholicism to Buddhism, survivors of the earthquake are turning to their religion for solace. Mosques, churches and temples in the disaster zone have been damaged but worshippers still come.

The call to afternoon prayer at the mosque attracted around 20 people on a recent day. But the complex has become more than a place of worship. It offers shelter to some of the 600 to 700 Muslim Hui people remaining in the city.

The mosque also serves as a distribution point, tapping into a network of Muslims across the mainland who donated food complying with strict dietary laws. Besides milk and water, the local government was not able to provide halal food.

'Muslims from everywhere helped us to fight the earthquake,' said one woman, as she showed a storehouse filled with noodles and canned beef sent from Muslims in Xinjiang region and Henan province .

The goods are distributed to families and used for preparing communal meals at the mosque.

Still, the Muslim leader must inform the government of the shipments. Beijing keeps a watchful eye on places of worship.

The Catholic church in Mianzhu city , which was more than 80 years old, was destroyed except for part of the wall behind the altar where a crucifix still hangs.

Father Li Yinxuan was unable to say Mass yesterday, but he has been in contact with members of his congregation. 'This is a special time.'

Of the four people in the church at the time, one was killed and two were injured. Some members of the congregation are living in the grounds.

One struggled to reconcile her belief with the destructive earthquake.

'I don't know how to answer this. We feel very sad. People still come to worship,' she said. Previously, the district had 4,000 Catholics, with Sunday services attracting 200 to 300 people. They hope to have a new church, though they worry about funding.

'We want to rebuild it. But our money is very tight,' she said.

Not far from the church in Mianzhu , buildings of the Xiangfu Buddhist Temple have also been damaged with roof tiles broken and the head of a religious statue sheared off.

The oldest hall, which dates to the Ming dynasty (1368-1644), survived nearly unscathed and worshippers still burn incense at the entrance.

Strolling in the grounds, one said the gods might have protected the temple. 'I believe this,' he said.