By Robin Gomes
Cardinal Oswald Gracias of Bombay, the President of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India (CBCI), wrote to Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi in the first week of April, offering the Indian Church’s full support and cooperation in the nation’s effort to contain the virus.
Cooperation with authorities
Modi convened a video conference with health workers, which included various representatives of the Church, mainly, the Director of Caritas India and the Director-General of the Catholic Health Association of India (CHAI).
The government of Modi on 24 March ordered a 21-day nationwide lockdown, restricting the movement of the country’s 1.3 billion population as a preventive measure against the spread of the Covid-19.
Migrants and daily wage earners
With many factories, businesses, shops, schools, and commercial activities closed, millions of people have become jobless overnight. The lockdown has been particularly hard on poor migrants and daily wage earners, many of them with families and children. Thousands were suddenly left stranded on the road without money, food and transport to return home.
With the lockdown extended to May 3, the ordeal continues.
On April 2, 2020, the Prime Minister’s Office held another video conference to discuss the situation of migrant workers. Cardinal Oswald Gracias who participated in the meeting, discussed the matter with Mumbai city officials, about urgently providing assistance to the stranded migrant workers.
The Archdiocese of Bombay is based in Mumbai (formerly Bombay), the capital of the western state of Maharashtra. The bustling city of more than 12 million people is India’s financial, commercial and entertainment capital. It provides a means of livelihood to a huge number of daily wage earners and migrants.
Cardinal Gracias has set up a crisis management team in his archdiocese “to analyze and daily respond to the changing scenario swiftly,” said the spokesman of the archdiocese, Father Nigel Barrett.
Seeking out the vulnerable
In a video message, end of March, the cardinal urged his priests to keep their “eyes and ears open” to help out distressed migrant workers who are stranded in their parishes because of the lockdown. He also urged that the lonely elderly have sufficient provisions during the crisis.
All 124 parishes in the archdiocese are providing food to needy people in their area. “Together, roughly some 7,000 people are given food twice daily,” Father Barrett said.
The cardinal also urged churches not to terminate any staff and ensure that salaries are paid, even if they do not work during the emergency.
As an outreach to tribal and daily wage workers, the Centre for Social Action, through its network of partner organizations across Raigad, Thane and Mumbai, is reaching out to over 5,000 households and over 100,000 beneficiaries, with essential supplies amounting to Rs. 5,000,000 (approx. $65,000).
The beneficiaries include tribal, poor migrants, the elderly, transgenders, rag-pickers and other vulnerable persons. The Archdiocese of Bombay has also made four of its schools available for relief measures, and has been organizing is outreach programmes in collaboration with local authorities and officials in keeping with social distancing norms.
On Friday, the total number of Covid-19 cases in India rose to 23,542 with 723 deaths. Maharashtra leads the nation’s 28 states and 8 union territories with the most number of cases at 6817. The state has confirmed 310 deaths so far.
“This battle against COVID 19 is not an easy one,” said Father Barrett, “but we stand united, armed with faith that we shall overcome.”