The New Zealand Catholic Bishops Conference has donated $15,000 to the earthquake-ravaged diocese of Mendi in Papua New Guinea to help with its on-going recovery and rebuilding.

Mendi Bishop Donald Lippert, OFMCap, thanked the bishops and the people of New Zealand for showing solidarity with their people.

“On behalf of the priests, consecrated religious and faithful people of the Diocese of Mendi, we are grateful to the Catholic bishops and people of New Zealand for the solidarity shown by the generous donation made to help those affected by the earthquake disaster,” he told NZ Catholic.

“Please know of our grateful prayers for you and we ask your prayers as we continue with our efforts to rebuild our churches, schools and health centres.”

Bishop Lippert said the Mendi diocese covers the Southern Highlands Province and the Hela Province in the Highlands region of PNG which are “arguably the provinces most affected by the 7.6 magnitude earthquake and its many aftershocks”.

One hundred and twenty five people died and 35,000 people were displaced following the 7.6 magnitude earthquake that hit the highlands on February 26, 2018.

“The diocese sustained millions of dollars of damage and destruction to its vast network of pastoral, educational and medical infrastructure spread across 31 parishes and over 300 rural outstations, many of them located in remote areas of our mountainous diocese,” Bishop Lippert added.

He said the majority of their funding for the recovery and rebuilding phase has come from church organisations.

Those who have sent donations, apart from the NZCBC, include the Pope, USA Capuchins, Australian Missionaries of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, Missionary Franciscans of the Immaculate Conception, Salesians, as well as several PNG dioceses and overseas church agencies.

“Nothing has come from the government,” Bishop Lippert said. “The response from the commercial and business sector has not been very good, with a few exceptions.”

Bishop Lippert said they need to repair and rebuild churches, parish priest houses, sisters’ convents, classrooms, teachers’ houses, health centres and nurses’ houses.

Bishop Lippert said the earlier funds they received from MISEREOR and MISSIO helped them provide immediate relief to people whose homes and food gardens were damaged by the quake.

“The vast majority of our people live by subsistence farming . . . [we were able to]  provide food and water, garden tools, seeds and seedlings [and] some building materials to those who were  most in need,” he said.

NZCBC president Bishop Patrick Dunn said the bishops are asking Caritas Aotearoa NZ to look into the possibility of helping Catholics rebuild after the immediate needs of people in a disaster-struck area are met.

“One of the concerns the bishops have at the moment is that Caritas funds cannot be put to specifically Catholic projects, like rebuilding churches or schools,” Bishop Dunn said.

This is because Caritas is in partnership with New Zealand Aid Programme of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade, which matched dollar for dollar the funds raised by the Catholic agency (Caritas).

“The bishops may suggest to Caritas that perhaps appeal envelopes could be modified to allow donors to elect whether they would like to restrict their donation to Caritas- MFAT projects or make the donations untagged and therefore available to the bishop or the diocese to apply funds where most needed,” Bishop Dunn said.