More good news than bad

Residents in Peshawar, Pakistan, search for belongings Oct. 26 in a house damaged by an earthquake earlier that day centered in Afghanistan. (CNS / Retuers / Fayaz Aziz)

Ten days ago, it appeared that all attention would be on helping the victims of Hurricane Patricia, which at the time was the strongest storm ever recorded in the Western Hemisphere. Thankfully, victims were almost unheard of.

That's not been the case in Pakistan, where an Oct. 26 earthquake in a remote area in northeastern Afghanistan has caused devastation and heartache.

And though the death toll has been relatively low — only hundreds, rather than thousands, of deaths have been reported — the misery is intense. Reports say approximately 10,000 houses and more than 100 schools have been destroyed. Thousands were injured in the 7.5-magnitude quake.

Ten thousand houses lost in a remote area can be especially painful: One village had 40 houses destroyed.

The remoteness has also slowed relief efforts. Roads are narrow and dangerous, and rockslides from the quake have blocked some of them. Some villages lie beyond roads and can only be reached by foot.

Still, aid agencies are doing their best. Groups such as International Red Crescent, CARE, Oxfam, International Rescue Committee and many others are distributing food, water and tents, but the need is urgent as the area is mountainous and temperatures have plummeted. Real shelter for thousands will be needed before winter.

Harrowing and inspiring

England's Catholic Herald has an interview with Fr. Jack Murad, a Syrian Catholic priest who was kidnapped and imprisoned by Islamic State militants and threatened with execution.

Miraculously, Murad was released after three months.

"I didn't expect to survive," Murad told the Herald. "It was a group of militants with their faces covered. They took me and a young man working in the monastery."

A condition of release was that Murad and the other man live under Islamic State rule with a two-page contract of restrictions, including that they not leave Islamic State territory. Once free, Murad fled.

"I felt that as long as I am there, Christians will not leave. So I had to go to encourage them to do the same," Murad said. "Some can't accept the idea of being displaced and would rather die at home. Others are convinced the Islamic State, with which they have a contract, will protect them. We must pray for God to protect them."

He said about 160 Christians remain behind; the monastery was destroyed.

So what's Murad doing now? Naturally, he's working to free the remaining Christians held captive.

Sisters given research awards

Charity Sr. Patricia Wittberg and the late Mercy Sr. Mary Ann Walsh were honored last week for their contributions to church research.

The Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA) at Georgetown University awarded Wittberg the Rev. Louis J. Luzbetak, SVD, Award for Exemplary Church Research. Luzbetak was CARA's first executive director; the annual award is given to a researcher who has made a significant lifetime contribution to research on the Catholic church.

Wittberg taught sociology for 28 years and is now a professor emerita at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis. She is the author of numerous books and articles on the sociology of religion and on religious communities, including most recently New Generations of Catholic Sisters.

Walsh was posthumously awarded the Richard Cardinal Cushing Medal for the Advancement of Church Research. The award is named for the Boston archbishop who was one of the principal founders of CARA and is given to a person or organization that has advanced church research through their active support of research and their understanding of its uses.

Walsh served as a correspondent for Catholic News Service in Rome and Washington, was director of communications for World Youth Day in Denver in 1993, then began her work in media relations for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. She wrote for publications including America, The Washington Post, The Huffington Post and USA Today. She was the producer of the award-winning video "Five Extraordinary Days" and served as a frequent commentator on major television networks. In 2013, she was awarded the President's Medallion, the highest membership honor presented by the Catholic Academy of Communications Professionals, and in 2015, she received the St. Francis de Sales Award from the Catholic Press Association, honoring her lifetime achievement in the field of journalism. She died April 28.

"We are grateful for their contributions to research in service of the church and especially for their work in advancing the church's self-understanding," said Jesuit Fr. Thomas Gaunt, executive director of CARA.

CARA is a national nonprofit research organization that conducts social scientific studies about the Catholic church to increase the church's self-understanding, to serve the applied research needs of church decision-makers, and to advance scholarly research on religion, particularly Catholicism.

Remember: Links, tips and accounts of the response to crises anywhere in the world are always welcome at dstockman@ncronline.org.

[Dan Stockman is national correspondent for Global Sisters Report. Follow him on Twitter @DanStockman or on Facebook.]