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Local Jesuit priest in Nepal shares account of devastation

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BRAINTREE -- A Jesuit of the United States Northeast Province who also serves as director of the Boston College Nepal Program witnessed the devastation of the April 25 earthquake that rocked Nepal, and the province began posting his communiques to their website www.jesuitseast.org within days.

Father Greg Sharkey reached Nepal, where he serves as professor of Himalayan religion and culture at Kathmandu University's Centre for Buddhist Studies, April 27, and took to work trying to help the population near Desideri House, a Jesuit facility in Kathmandu, Nepal.

Estimated numbers of people killed exceeded 8,000 with more than 18,000 estimated injured in a 7.8 earthquake that hit late in the morning on April 25, roughly 100 miles from Kathmandu.

"I am happy to say that the house survived without serious damage, allowing us to use it as a command and communication center for relief works in our quarter of the city," he said in an email.

He reported difficulty keeping up with emails from home in a letter marked April 30, because efforts to save lives had to be made immediately. He described his work attempting to help in the face of disaster.

"I spent the morning at Dhulikhel Hospital -- about an hour outside Kathmandu Valley. It's the place where many of the wounded from the above-mentioned districts are brought. We brought orthopedic surgery supplies, which are desperately needed here. The hospital is so overstuffed that patients awaiting surgery are lined up on mats in the lobby. I thank God for my various stints as a hospital chaplain during formation; otherwise the sights would be overwhelming," he said.

He reported that Jesuits were headed toward Kathmandu from a local village where the order recently ordained a new man, working their way through blocked roads and damaged countryside.

The province said the progress of Jesuits helping with the efforts can be viewed with pictures on the Facebook community page Earthquake Relief by Nepal Jesuits, www.facebook.com/sjrelief4nep.

Father Sharkey related a story of tragedy in a situation where he said search and rescue teams had made removing bodies the priority.

"In the afternoon, I took a group of Taiwanese doctors and volunteers to Bhaktapur, the ancient medieval capital. Nearly all the historic buildings are reduced to piles of broken brick," he said.

There he counselled a couple whose son had died after a heartbreaking ordeal.

"I spent some time comforting a Newar couple whose son was trapped on the ground floor of one such pile. He was able to text his pleas for help for two days; and then the phone went dead. A Korean search-and-rescue team removed the body today," he said.

"It's all quite draining; and the knowledge that villagers out in hundreds of hill villages have received no help yet, is daunting. But knowing that our efforts truly matter is a great consolation that keeps us going," he said.

"We are looking after each other and taking time to step away from it all for a few minutes. We are also holding daily meetings to share what we are experiencing. We're standing strong for the good of the afflicted. I drag myself home each evening, have a good, quick cry over the reports of friends' deaths, go to sleep, then get up to make the coffee. What else can you do?" Father Sharkey asked in his most recent letter.

A second earthquake with an epicenter in China had been reported to have killed 65 and injured more than 1,000 people in Nepal and India, May 12, at the time of this reporting.

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