By Robin Gomes
Cardinal Oswald Gracias has appealed to priests and faithful of his Archdiocese of Bombay to cremate people who die from Covid-19 rather than bury them.
In a video message last week, the cardinal asked Catholics to abide by the directives issued by Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) of Mumbai (formerly Bombay) and cremate the bodies of those who die of the infection, UCANEWS reported.
Father Nigel Barrett, the spokesperson of the archdiocese, said that the cardinal had also advised people to strictly comply with government restrictions such as maintaining social distancing and washing hands with soap frequently to prevent the spread of the infection.
“As per the direction of the cardinal, Christian people are supposed to cremate the bodies of victims of Covid-19, but if someone wants a burial they have to follow the directions of the BMC as it has identified one place,” the priest told UCA News
The archdiocese also asked pastors to ensure there are no more than five mourners present at funerals.
The cardinal said that the police should also be informed about the death and cremation.
The BMC has is acting in line with a report by the World Health Organization (WHO), according to which the burial of coronavirus victims poses the risk of a further outbreak of the disease but cremation doesn't. It says the high temperature of cremations kills the virus and there is no risk of it spreading.
Mumbai’s municipal commissioner had issued a directive under the Epidemic Disease Act 1897 to cremate all coronavirus victims.
However, the directive was withdrawn after Maharashtra Minority Affairs Minister Nawab Malik objected. Hours later, a fresh order was issued stating that burials should take place on large grounds so that there is no possibility of the virus spreading in the vicinity.
Father Barrett said families would be allowed burials only if they adhered to WHO guidelines.
The number of Covid-19 cases in Mumbai increased by 103 to reach 433 on April 5, the BMC said. Eight more deaths took the total in the city to 30, the highest figure in India.
Maharashtra state, of which Mumbai is the local capital, has the highest number of infections among India’s 28 states and 8 union territories. The state has 748 cases with 45 deaths.
As of April 6, India reported 4,314 Covid-19 cases with 118 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University data. Since the start of the infection, there have been nearly 1.3 million worldwide, with more than 70,500 deaths.
A 21-day nation-wide lockdown ordered by the Indian government to contain the spread of the contagion is scheduled to end on April 14, until further notice.
Envisaging a possible extension of the lockdown, Cardinal Gracias advised his faithful to refrain from programming church services such as Baptisms, First Communions or marriages, immediately after April 14.
He also urged Catholics of his archdiocese to keep their “eyes and ears open” for distressed migrant workers stranded in their parishes because of the lockout and help them out.
The cardinal also thought about the lonely elderly and urged that the Small Christian Communities (SCC) help them out with sufficient provisions during the lockdown.