By Robin Gomes
The superior of the St. Vincenza Gerosa (VG) hospital community in Dibrugarh, Assam state, developed mild symptoms of fever and a bad stomach on returning from a visit to Guwahati, Assam’s biggest city. After undergoing a test she was found positive with Covid-19 on July 3, said Fr. Felix Anthony of Miao Diocese in neighbouring Arunachal Pradesh.
Following this, the priest who is the public relations officer (PRO) of the North East Regional Bishops’ Council (NEIRBC), which comprises 15 dioceses in 7 states of the region, said that all the inmates of the community were tested. Twelve sisters and domestic support were found to be infected on 4 July, bringing the number to 13.
Consequently, the local administration of Dibrugarh district sealed VG Hospital, which is run by the Sisters of the Charity of Sts. Bartolomea Capitanio and Vincenza Gerosa (SCCG), also known as the Sisters of Maria Bambina, or Charity Sisters.
Four of the nuns are senior citizens – Sisters Antonia Mampilly (85), Eileen Almeida (72), Michael Serrao (82) and Martha Kochuparambil (83).
Four others have tested negative and the entire hospital area is now declared a contaminated zone.
Samples of all other inmates, staff, primary contacts and regular visitors are being collected and sent for testing at the Regional Medical Research Centre, Dibrugarh.
Bishops urge prayers
Expressing shock, Bishop Joseph Aind of Dibrugarh Diocese said, “It is sad that the lifeline hospital of people in Assam and Arunachal Pradesh has now been sealed.” “My heart goes out to all the sisters and the inmates of VG Hospital," said the Salesian bishop, urging prayers for the quick recovery of the nuns and re-reopening of the hospital.
Assam is the worst affected north-eastern state. The state health and family welfare minister Himanta Biswa Sarm on Sunday confirmed 735 new Covid-19 cases, pushing the total number of infections in the state to 11,736, with 14 deaths. Of these new cases, 552 were from Guwahati alone.
Bishop George Pallipparambil of Miao Diocese has also asked his faithful to pray for the Sisters of Maria Bambina and advised everyone to be extra careful and comply with the existing lockdown restrictions to contain the spread of the virus.
VG Hospital complex
VG Hospital is named after Sts. Bartolomea Capitanio and Vincenza Gerosa, who founded the Sisters of Maria Bambina in Lovere, Italy in 1832.
Established in the year 1970 with the goal of rendering health services to the poor people of the locality and to help people get rid of alcohol and drug addiction, VG Hospital is now a 70-bedded general hospital with a full-fledged psychiatric unit.
Attached to the complex is a de-addiction centre called “Mercy Home” and a general nursing and midwifery unit. The Sisters of Maria Bambina are also engaged in prison ministry and pastoral work.
St. John Hospital in Guwahati is also run by the nuns.
Sisters of Maria Bambina in India
India was the entry point of the Sisters of Maria Bambina in Asia. A batch of four Sisters of Maria Bambina first touched Indian soil in Kolkata (formerly Calcutta) on March 11, 1860. From there, they headed north some 100 kilometres for Krishnagar city, their final destination, on March 17. Six years later, the Diocese of Krishnagar was erected.
From Krishnagar, they expanded to other parts of India as well as to Bangladesh, Myanmar, Japan, Israel, Thailand and Nepal.
Today, the Sisters of Maria Bambina in India have 8 provinces, including North-East Province, with its provincial house in Guwahati. (Source: Miao Diocese)