By Catholic News Service

MULTAN, Pakistan – A Pakistani Catholic bishop and his Protestant counterpart led a convoy of food and bottled water to southern Punjab province, where five districts are submerged under floodwaters.

The Asian Church news agency UCA News reported that Bishop Andrew Francis of Multan and Anglican Bishop Alexander Malik of Lahore began their trip Aug. 26 with a prayer at the Cathedral of the Holy Redeemer, Multan, before traveling more than 100 miles south to a camp for survivors in Khan Bela. Federal Minister for Minorities Shahbaz Bhatti also joined the convoy with an additional six trucks of relief items.{{more}}

“This is our diocese. We have seen death with our own eyes in visits to flood-hit areas,” Bishop Francis told flood victims upon their arrival. “We came through these deadly waters to bring you food and show you that we care.”

Said Bishop Malik: “We are all Pakistanis and stand together amid this crisis.”

Father Dominic Isaac, coordinator of the Philadelphia Archdiocese’s Pakistani Apostolate, celebrated Masses for Pakistani flood victims and relief efforts Aug. 22 and 29 at St. William Church in Northeast Philadelphia, where he is in residence.

St. William Parish has a large number of Pakistani Catholics, many of whom have relatives who were personally impacted by the flood.

Father Isaac said the majority of the 1,500 Pakistani Christian families in the Archdiocese are Catholic. “We all have deep faith in God and His Son Jesus Christ. We don’t know all the reasons God permits specific calamities or why particular people are made to suffer from them, but we being Catholic and Christian should trust that in God’s omniscience and ultimate wisdom, He knows how to work out what is best for everyone in the end.”

The flooding that began in late July has left an estimated 1,500 people dead and at least 4 million Pakistanis homeless. The United Nations and aid agencies have expressed alarm over a serious lack of food, clean drinking water and medicine as the potential for disease grows.

Pope Benedict XVI has made repeated appeals for solidarity and concrete assistance for the millions of people affected by flooding in Pakistan.

The Pontiff expressed his condolences in a message to Archbishop Lawrence Saldanha of Lahore, head of the Pakistan bishops’ conference.

“The Holy Father commends the deceased to the Almighty” and “prays for all involved in providing assistance to the victims,” the Pope said.

And at the end of his weekly general audience Aug. 18 in Castel Gandolfo, the Pope remembered “the dear population of Pakistan, recently stricken by serious flooding, which has caused numerous victims and has left many families without a home.”

While Pope Benedict offered his prayers for the dead and condolences to their families, he said, “May our solidarity and the concrete support of the international community not be lacking for these brothers and sisters of ours, who are so harshly tried.”

Caritas Internationalis, the Vatican-based umbrella agency for national Catholic charities, launched an appeal Aug. 12 asking member agencies for $5.5 million to fund Catholic relief efforts in Pakistan throughout the next three months.

U.S. members of Caritas Internationalis are Catholic Relief Services (CRS), Catholic Charities USA and the Catholic Campaign for Human Development.

Headquartered in Baltimore, CRS is the official overseas relief and development agency of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

Though hampered by washed-out roads and bridges, CRS has reached thousands of people in the north and southwest parts of Pakistan. The main needs in the affected areas are shelter, drinking water, food and medicines, and CRS has provided nearly 2,300 homeless families in Balochistan with shelter and hygiene materials as well as water purification tablets, plastic sheeting and cookware.

CRS engineers are now in the process of repairing seven separate water systems in the region, serving tens of thousands of people. The agency has years of experience building and repairing water systems in remote mountainous areas of Pakistan, having worked on hundreds of systems following the 2005 earthquake in Pakistan.

CRS briefly had to evacuate its office in Besham, Shangla, on Aug. 8 because of rising floodwaters, but staff returned the next day.

Once the most immediate needs are met, CRS will help farmers and others to regain their means of earning a living.

In several areas including Swat, CRS is planning 17 cash-for-work projects, paying people affected by the disaster to build irrigation channels, pathways and retaining walls.

“Our teams are battling the weather, the terrain and the immense scale of the disaster,” said Carolyn Fanelli, head of programming and acting country representative for CRS Pakistan. “In places where water has begun to recede, it has left behind a trail of devastation.

“One of our staff members from Swat – in the north of Pakistan – told me that the entire map of his district has changed. The floodwaters cut a brand-new path through the land. There are places he doesn’t even recognize now,” she added.

Pakistan, with a population of nearly 150 million people, is the seventh most populous country in the world, and the population is expected to double within the next 30 years, according to CRS.

The literacy level of Pakistan is one of the lowest in the world, CRS said. In rural areas, 51 percent of men and 77 percent of women are unable to read and write. Compounding these problems is the lack of educational and employment opportunities for women and girls, the prevalence of child labor, and conflicts between people of differing faiths.

CRS has worked in Pakistan since 1954. The CRS office is located in the Pakistani capital of Islamabad.

– CRS in Baltimore and CS&T staff writer Christie Chicoine contributed to this article.For more information about Catholic Relief Services’ aid to Pakistan, including how to donate to CRS online, visit or call 1-877-HELP CRS (1-877-435-7277).

Donations may also be sent via check by standard mail to: Catholic Relief Services, P.O. Box 17090, Baltimore, MD 21203-7090. Donors are asked to write “Pakistan Flooding” in the memo portion of their check.

– CRS in Baltimore contributed to this article.