By Robin Gomes
Leaders of Catholic, Protestant, Orthodox and evangelical fellowships of India rang bells, sang hymns and prayed together online at noon on Pentecost Sunday, evoking the power of the Holy Spirit on the nation as it struggles against the growing number of Covid-19 infections.
India added more than 50,000 cases in the past week, totalling more than 191,000 infections with over 5,400 deaths. With daily infections increasing to more than 8,000 and the government relaxing lockdown norms, experts say the contagion could spread further.
"We are united in one accord and united in faith," said Cardinal Oswald Gracias of Bombay, president of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of India (CBCI), as he urged Christians to pray for the nation.
The United Christian Forum, an ecumenical group, organized the prayer initiative.
Several bishops joined the prayer programme, including Archbishop Leo Cornelio of Bhopal, the capital of central India's Madhya Pradesh state.
All the Catholic parishes in Bhopal Archdiocese held prayers at noon as planned, while Archbishop Cornelio also led an online prayer service for Catholics to attend from their homes, said archdiocesan spokesperson Father Maria Stephen.
It was "a prayer of hope at the time everyone in the country is struggling with no immediate respite from the pandemic that continues to spread among the masses," Archbishop Cornelio told UCA News after the event.
Pastor Vinu Paul, who leads New Frontier Church based in the western state of Maharashtra, said people in his church "prayed together for the healing of our land."
Bishop Chacko Thottumarickal of Indore also exhorted Christians to seek God's help to save the country from coronavirus.
"When we all pray together, God will send his Holy Spirit and deliver the nation" of 1.3 billion people, the bishop said.
The feast of Pentecost, observed 50 days after Easter, commemorates the descent of the Holy Spirit, the Third Person of the Holy Trinity, on the Virgin Mary and the Apostles, as they gathered in the “upper room” in Jerusalem. The event marks the birth of the Church.
The 25-minute-long prayer service began with the ringing of bells, which organizers said symbolized the message of hope that “must ring out from the church to the nation”.
The ecumenical initiative included prayers for healing and for various sectors of society such as the government, politicians, those in authority, the police, healthcare workers and victims of the pandemic.
Divine Word Father John Paul, one of the organizers and president of Indore-based Christian Media Forum, said they prayed “for all the unsung heroes of our day namely; doctors, nurses, medical professionals, police and other law and order enforcing personals, grocers, truckers, farmers, bank employees, those maintaining supply of electricity, water, and other essential services.” “All these and others, who are on the front lines, need God’s special protection as they serve us,” the priest added.
The prayer ended with the singing of the national anthem.