Tsunami Disaster Solidarity Mass
14th January, 2005
Church of St Ignatius, Singapores

The Tsunami disaster issue is a complex issue. The limited time available during a homily like this does not allow us to take up topics like for example, “Why does God allow such a disaster to happen when so many people, especially the poor, are going to be killed?!” Such topics require a separate forum. So, I’ll only try to speak about this disaster in the light of its meaning to our Christian faith and how it can be a challenge to us in the daily living of our faith.

On January 8th, The Straits Times carried an article entitled, “Brave Dane.” This is a story of a Tsunami hero. It is about a 32 year old Danish tourist, Mr John Mailand. Mr Mailand was in Matara, the southern coastal resort in Sri Lanka. When the Tsunami struck, Mr Mailand dashed to-and-fro from the beach to the sea: not once, not twice, but six times . . . eventually rescuing ten drowning children. In his sixth attempt, he was trying to lift a concrete slab off a woman and child. As he was doing this, a second tidal wave struck him and flung him against a wall and snapped his head against the concrete and probably killed him instantly. His limp body then sunk under the rapidly rising water. His distinct blonde hair was the last thing witnesses saw of him.

The town’s police chief said, “Mr Mailand could have gone home safely to his loved ones, but he knew others needed his help. . . and he gave up his life to save people he didn’t even know. No one here will ever forget what he did.”

For Mr Mailand, it did not matter whether the children he went back to save were people he knew or not. What mattered most to Mr Mailand was that they were fellow human beings. To him, that was enough; they were all worth risking his life and dying for; which he did.

My brothers and sisters in Christ, Mr Mailand is a powerful symbol for us and the world of what this Tsunami disaster is all about. It is about valuing human lives. It is about valuing not only our own lives and our family lives, but valuing ALL human lives! . . . that’s what Mr Mailand died for. And that’s why the world (42 countries) to date have pledged US$10 billion. Of this US$8 billion were from governments and US$2 billion were from private donations. Such responses are stunning and overwhelming.

There is no doubt that this Asian Tsunami disaster has brought out the good side of the world and the human person. And that’s why we too in our own ways responded generously and selflessly. That’s why we too are also here tonight for this Mass, to mourn the loss of these people, even if we do not know them.

The bottom line of all that is happening is that ALL human lives are precious regardless of who they are! Agree?! We must agree . . . more so when we profess ourselves to be Christians. Christians who believe that Jesus valued human lives so much that He willingly died on the Cross and Rose from the dead on the third day to save not only one person or ten persons, but the entire human race and for all times.

So, we may ask ourselves, “What is the significance of valuing ALL human lives?” This is a very important question for us and everyone in the world. The first significance, is to be aware that there is a bigger picture of the world where human lives are NOT valued!

Statistics (from the internet) show us that:

i) In Asian, African and Latin American countries, more than 500 million people are living in what the World Bank call “absolute poverty.” If we value human lives, this should not happen.

ii) Every year 15 million children die of hunger. If we value human lives, this should not happen.

iii) To satisfy the world’s sanitation and food requirements would costs only US$13 billion. This similar amount is spent by the people of the United States and European Union on perfume each year. Should this happen if we value human lives?

iv) In 1997 alone, 300,000 children were saved by Vitamin A supplementation programmes in developing countries. This happened because some people valued human lives.

v) World Health Organisation(WHO) and the Alan Guttmacher Institute (AGI) claim that there are some 46 million abortions performed each year. If we value human lives, this should not happen.

vi) In 2003 alone, HIV/AIDS – associated illnesses caused the death of 2.9 million people worldwide, including an estimated 490,000 children below the age of 15 years. If we value human lives, this should not happen.

These are only some of the many grim figures and facts which we have time to quote here. Are we shocked by these astounding figures of how life is so vulnerable, cheap and ignored in the world?

We are here today, like the rest of the world responding to the death of 150,000 people. Such solidarity is essential, noble and very Christian. But, what about the millions and millions of others who die daily from abortion, hunger and exploitation?! Are their lives not as valuable as the ten children that Mr Mailand died for?

ALL human lives regardless of who they are, are precious in God’s eyes and are worth dying for. In a few months time, sooner for some, we and the world are going to find ourselves drained of our energies to offer compassion to these Tsunami disaster survivors. Other things and concerns in our lives will occupy our minds and attention. While it is understandable that life has to move on, we must also not brush aside such staggering grim facts of the dark side of our world and human existence. We must also try to personalize the reality of such suffering in some ways, and see they are very much part of the practice and meaning of our Christian faith.

For this we may ask ourselves, “How many of us would have acted in the same way as Mr Mailand?” Some of us would say, “I believe I would or at least I hope I would.” Others would say, “I am not sure.” Still others would simply give us a flat, “No, I won’t!” Each of our response would certainly be different. But, a good indication of whether we will be heroes or cowards can be seen from the quality of the daily living of our faith.

But, if we want to be true followers of Christ, then there is only one answer and only one response. It must be a “Yes,” like the selfless “yes” of Mr Mailand, to valuing ALL human lives.

When Mr Mailand was dashing back into the sea, the other fellow Sri Lankan were too afraid and too protective of their own lives. So, they stayed behind and watched the brave “white man” saving the lives of their own people. It was through such selflessness that it later inspired and moved a few Sri Lankans and Caucasians also to run down to the beach to save the lives of the other stranded and drowning people.

My sisters and brothers in Christ, if we want to move others to be selfless and to be more Christ-like, then we ourselves, like Mr Mailand, must first set the example for others to follow. And, when we are able to be selfless for the sake of others, beginning with ourselves and with our homes, and more so, because we want to identify ourselves as followers of Christ’s selflessness, then to conclude, we can truly say that this Tsunami disaster has awaken our faith and made us become bearers of hope in the grim suffering of the world.

This hope that we are talking about is not any kind of hope, but the divine and powerful hope of Christ that can bring real and lasting hope that truly nurtures the good side of what we find in each of our hearts here tonight.

Yes, today’s Gospel of St John tells us, “Do not let your hearts be troubled, Trust in God still, and trust in me.” So, we are each challenged here tonight to Be Bearers of Hope; to be Selfless like Christ; to be what God wants us to be; today and always! Will we?! We must if we are serious about our faith and God in our lives.

Fr Philip Heng, S.J.