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Bay area worshipers urged to donate to tsunami relief

Worshipers throughout the Tampa Bay area are being asked to make special offerings to help tsunami victims.

The Roman Catholic Diocese of St. Petersburg and the Episcopal Diocese of Southwest Florida have set aside this weekend for special collections. The United Methodist Church, where national donations topped $1.5-million by Friday, made special bulletin inserts for local churches to request contributions.

Last weekend, members of local Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints congregations joined believers around the country in donating money saved from their monthly fast. Worshipers at Chua Phat Phap temple in St. Petersburg, where a memorial table was set up to remember tsunami victims, also raised money last Sunday.

Students at Temple Beth-El's religious school decided to donate the pennies, nickels, dimes, quarters and dollar bills they've collected for charity during the past few months.

And on Dec. 31, on the Muslim holy day of prayer, Tampa Bay area mosques joined others around the state to pray for the dead and raise money for the living.

"We encouraged the mosques to do two things. First, to hold a special prayer for the dead in a distant place, Salat Al-Ghaib," said Ahmed Bedier, communications director for the Council on American-Islamic Relations in Tampa.

"This was especially important, because most of the people who died were Muslim, and for the amount of people who died, normal Muslim ritual burials were not followed for many of the tsunami victims. This was our way to fulfill that need."

For those giving money and other donations, the beliefs of those suffering have no bearing on whether to help.

"It's just human beings," said Tanya Vu of Chua Phat Phap Temple, whose congregation is primarily Vietnamese.

The congregation donated more than $6,000 since last Sunday's service, she said.

"We're all God's children, and we're all part of the human race, and we just feel compassion to those who have been adversely affected by the recent disaster as well as other disasters that occur from time to time," said Joseph A. Meyers II, who presides over Mormon congregations in Pinellas County and west Pasco County.

"Regardless of whether they are of our faith or not, they are still our friends and our neighbors," Meyers said.

Mormons across the country are sending more than 70 tons of medical supplies, hygiene kits, clothing and shoes to tsunami victims in partnership with Islamic Relief Worldwide. Mormons traditionally fast the first Sunday of each month, skipping two consecutive meals for charity, Meyers said.

Local churches are assembling hygiene kits, and two Eagle Scouts plan to make that part of their project, he said.

Shortly after learning of the tsunami, Bishop Edward R. Benoway, head of the Florida-Bahamas Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, wrote a letter to his flock urging members to help alleviate the suffering. Donations are to be made to the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America's International Disaster Response fund.

"We just jumped right on it," said the Rev. Tom Weitzel, director of communications for the Florida-Bahamas Synod.

"Personally, as I heard the report, especially those early reports as they were going through first the shock and then the need for water, then food and then shelter, my thought was, yeah, we've been there. We know."

Bishop Robert Lynch, head of the Catholic Diocese of St. Petersburg, has sent $500,000 to Catholic Relief Services for the tsunami survivors. Lynch is chairman of the board of Catholic Relief Services, the international disaster relief organization of U.S. Catholic bishops.

"He visited the area, he knows the need," said Mary Jo Murphy, diocese spokeswoman, of Lynch's earlier travels to the area.

The United Methodist Committee on Relief has already sent $750,000, said Elliott Wright, information officer of the general board of Global Ministries.

The more than $1-million already contributed by Methodists around the country has come through telephone and online donations and does not include money given through churches last Sunday, he said.

"On Monday, we have a delegation going from the church here to the island of Sumatra. They are carrying 100,000 doses of antibiotics and antidiarrhea medicine," Wright said.

The Episcopal Diocese of Southwest Florida, which includes Tampa Bay, has designated today as Tsunami Victim Relief Sunday, with special collections to be forwarded to Episcopal Relief and Development. The humanitarian organization has already shipped 1,000 temporary shelters to Sri Lanka and $250,000 in emergency funds.

In a letter to churches, Bishop John Lipscomb said the diocese "knows only too well the terror and loss sustained from a natural disaster."


Catholic Relief Services

P.O. Box 17090

Baltimore, MD 21203-7090

1-800-736-3467 or 1-877-435-7277 for credit card donations

Episcopal Relief and Development

South Asia Relief Fund

P.O. Box 12043

Newark, NJ 07101 for online donations

ELCA International Disaster Response

P.O. Box 71764

Chicago, IL 60694-1764 for online donations

1-800-638-3522 for credit card donations

United Methodist Committee on Relief for tsunami relief


475 Riverside Drive, Room 330

New York, NY 10115.

Write "UMCOR Advance 274305, South Asia Emergency Fund" on the check's memo line. for online donations

1-800-554-8583 for credit card donations