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Flash floods damage Unitarian villages in Transylvania

Partner churches in U.S. rally to help historic Unitarian communities; UUA raises relief funds.
By Jane Greer

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Floodwaters in Transylvania

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The flooded village of Kobátfalva, Transylvania, four days after a series of flash floods damaged historic Unitarian communities. (Photo by Rachel Holt)

While Unitarian Universalists in the U.S. organize assistance for their fellow citizens hit by Hurricane Katrina, another group of Unitarians, half a world away, is still reeling from the effects of an August 23 flash flood that killed five people and laid waste to houses, churches, farm buildings, livestock, and roads.

On the night of the 23rd, torrential rains swept through the Nyikó River Valley in Transylvania in Romania, wreaking havoc in the Unitarian villages of Siménfalva, Kadács, Kobátfalva, and Székelyszentmiklós.

Unitarianism has historic roots in Transylvania, a remote mountainous area in northwest Romania. Some of the earliest Unitarian churches were founded in this area in the sixteenth century and Unitarianism has remained a dynamic force there, with Unitarian churches today being the center of village life. As Hungarian speakers with their own ethnic identity, Transylvanian Unitarians have suffered persecution over the years from fascism, Nazism, and Communism. Under the current Romanian government, they can expect limited assistance for flood recovery.

Rachel Holt, a member of First Parish in Concord, Mass., which has a relationship with the Székelykerestúr church, is currently in Transylvania teaching English. She visited Kobátfalva four days after the flood, and wrote in an e-mail: “People were busy washing the mud off of their furniture, digging out cars and houses from under huge piles of hay, and cleaning the mud out of the drainage system to help get rid of the water. Nobody appeared to be feeling sorry for themselves; they were just doing what needed to be done to get their lives back.”

“It was also great to see the people who were there from surrounding villages helping, most often people they did not even know,” she added.

The Unitarian Universalist Partner Church Council, which strives to link Unitarian churches in developing countries with North American partners, has established strong ties between many Unitarian churches in Transylvania and North American UU churches.

Partner Church Council executive director Cathy Cordes reports that on September 4, more than 50 Unitarian clergy from neighboring villages visited the flooded villages to help clean. At the end of the day, they conducted simultaneous church services in the four villages.

After receiving an inventory of the damage, Cordes estimates that it will take more than $1 million to help these villages get back on their feet. It’s important for UUs to remember their Transylvanian coreligionists, says Cordes. Although churches in the area have been valiantly trying to raise funds, they simply don’t have the resources to address the scope of the need. “These are our Unitarian friends and partners,” she said. “If we don’t help them at a time like this, who will?”

As of Friday, September 16, $37,781 has been raised to help victims of the Transylvania flood.

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