Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of September 9, 2002
New hope for great Buddhas of Bamiyan
By MSGR. JIM LISANTE
In some ways, last year seems a lifetime ago. So much has happened to our New York community, our nation and the world at large.
Early in 2001, in one of my Light One Candle columns, I told the story of the Buddhas of Bamiyan, two ancient monuments which towered over a valley in Afghanistan until they were demolished by the fundamentalist Taliban leaders who said that idols were forbidden by their faith.
There was a worldwide outcry from people of many countries and religions, including Islam, condemning the wanton destruction. Still, the minister of information and culture at that time was quoted as saying, "It is easier to destroy than to build."
Who knew just how far those who lived by those words would go?
Months later, we watched as four passenger planes were turned into bombs, the Pentagon attacked and the twin towers of the World Trade Centre obliterated, killing almost 3,000 of our neighbours. Now as we approach the first anniversary of that horror, the Taliban is gone, a new government is trying to hold Afghanistan together, and there is news about the Buddhas - and the people - of Bamiyan.
For more than a decade several hundred people have been living in man-made caves that surround the remains of the giant Buddhas. They leave only when fighting comes too close. After the Taliban was overthrown, the people felt safe enough to return to the caves.
Driven by poverty, homelessness and desperation, families eke out a living, farming tiny plots of land or working at the bazaar in the nearest town. The caves are literally holes in the walls, carved out of the sandstone cliffs by the Buddhists who built the statues. The tiny "rooms" were originally intended for meditation, but today, they have become homes.
There is no clean, running water, yet when it rains no one can leave the caves because of the danger from torrents washing down the cliffs. There is no electricity, so the only light comes through cracks in the door or oil-burning lamps.
Landmines left from years of war create constant danger with every step. Fortunately, several aid groups from different countries are distributing food, locating a source of clean water and providing some jobs repairing roads.
Now there is another sign of hope.
Recently, at the request of President Hamid Karzai, members of the Afghan ministry of culture and UNESCO, the United Nations' cultural agency, met to decide on priorities for rebuilding the country's ravished heritage. In addition to restoring several museums, the cliffs at the Bamiyan site will be stabilized and the 600 niches once decorated with Buddhist wall-paintings, protected. In time, they plan to rebuild the great Buddhas.
Locals are hopeful that the renewed interest in the area will mean the possibility of more jobs, as well as desperately needed clinics and schools. They realize from bitter experience that there will be no quick fixes.
I believe that the grief and suffering so many experienced on Sept. 11 has made us all better neighbours, not just to the folks next door, but to those who, like Jesus at his birth, are sheltered by the rock walls of a cave half a world away from us.
What they want - and need - is a helping hand and a chance to build, to create, and to light their own candles of hope rather than curse the darkness imposed on them by those who would rather destroy.
(For a free copy of the Christopher News Note, Being a Good Neighbour, write: The Christophers, 12 East 48 St., New York, NY, 10017; or e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.)
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