Chinese Catholics help migrants stranded for lunar new year

By Catholic News Service

HONG KONG (CNS) -- Catholics in southern and central China were helping stranded migrants who could not return to their hometowns for the Chinese new year because of snowstorms, rain or traffic chaos.

By Feb. 4, three days before the beginning of the weeklong lunar new year, or spring festival, more than a million migrant workers from southern China's Guangdong province were still stranded at the Guangzhou train station. Officials estimated that 600,000 of them would not be able to board a train before Feb. 7, reported the Asian church news agency UCA News.

Bishop Joseph Gan Junqiu of Guangzhou told UCA News Feb. 4 that the diocese was preparing to celebrate the holiday in parishes with some stranded migrant workers, and 200 local Catholics were making traditional dumplings for the occasion.

A few days earlier, the bishop and accompanying Catholics had visited the train station to learn more about what the people needed.

"We have bought food, medicine and 100 quilts for the stranded workers at the station periphery waiting to board trains," he said.

Police now bar the crowds from going near the station before a train departs. One woman died Feb. 3, a day after she was trampled as people rushed into the station, and a man died of electrocution when trying to jump from a bridge onto a train.

"I hope to do all we can to help," Bishop Gan said, noting that parish lay groups would offer help if needed. He said the diocese would arrange accommodations for stranded workers or students who asked to stay with the church.

On Feb. 3, Guangzhou Catholics collected about 50,000 yuan (US$6,950) for disaster victims, the bishop added. This money would be sent to community charities for disaster-stricken provinces, he said.

The travel delays have been caused by unusually heavy snowfalls that began Jan. 10 and have affected 100 million people in 19 provinces, municipalities and autonomous regions in central and southern China.

Father Joseph Huang Bingzhang of Guangdong's Shantou Diocese said the local church had raised 20,000 yuan (US$2,780) for disaster victims and would offer other material assistance.

The church in Shenzhen, an area of Guangdong with many migrants, has encouraged stranded workers to stay in the city to celebrate the new year. Parishes will arrange to help Catholic migrants who need food and lodging, the Hebei Faith Press reported Feb. 3.

The Shenzhen Diocese planned a dinner Feb. 6 to enable Catholic workers to enjoy the holiday. Besides praying at Masses, Shenzhen Catholics donated 60,000 yuan (US$8,340) and nearly 1,000 pieces of clothing Feb. 3 to help stranded citizens.

Officials at a government press conference in Beijing Feb. 1 said the storms had resulted in 60 deaths, caused 223,000 houses to collapse and damaged 860,000 other houses. Meanwhile, 1.8 million people had been evacuated, and coal, gasoline, water and food were in short supply in various areas. The damage was estimated at 53.8 billion yuan (US$7.5 billion).

In Sichuan province's snow-hit Chongqing Diocese, Liu Deshen, a lay leader, called on all priests and Catholics to join in relief work in suburban districts and counties. Catholics visited at least 500 households badly affected by the rain and snow.

Father Joseph Zhang Yinlin of the Anyang Diocese in Henan, another snow-affected province, said that at least "it is good for our church to offer charity during Lent and the lunar new year."

The extreme weather has not directly affected the capital, Beijing, where Bishop Joseph Li Shan advised clergy to collect money and materials among parishioners at their new year gatherings, said Father Paul Han Wensheng of Immaculate Conception Cathedral.

In the neighboring Tianjin Diocese, Father Paul Zhang Xizhou said he explained to Catholics that their Lenten fast is more meaningful if they save meal and pocket money for those in need.

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