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The Covid care center of CBCI’s St John’s Medical College in Bangalore was opened in August, 2020. The Covid care center of CBCI’s St John’s Medical College in Bangalore was opened in August, 2020. 

Indian Church extends hand to ease pandemic crisis

Cardinal Oswald Gracias explains how the Church's social arm and its healthcare sector are responding to the critical emergency of the nation under massive waves of Covid-19 cases and deaths.

By Robin Gomes

The Catholic Church of India has made available some 60,000 beds of its healthcare facilities in the country’s battle against the devastating second wave of the Covid-19 pandemic. More than 50,000 nuns normally work at these facilities, a thousand of whom are qualified doctors, said Cardinal Oswald Gracias of Bombay, the president of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India (CBCI).  “Faced with the catastrophe, India’s Catholic Church is doing its utmost to help all those suffering, irrespective of caste or creed,” he told AsiaNews. 

 

The Church’s extensive works of mercy are largely carried out throughout the country through its social and development arm, Caritas India, and the Catholic Health Association of India (CHAI), a network of over 3,500 healthcare and social service centres.

Toll continues

Recent tallies on the pandemic have shown little tendency of slowing down in the world’s second most populous nation, with the seven-day average of new cases showing a record high of 390,995.  On Tuesday, the Health Ministry reported 329,942 new infections, with 3,876 deaths, taking the total fatalities to 249,992.  India leads the world in the daily average number of new deaths reported, accounting for one in every three deaths reported worldwide each day, according to a Reuters tally.  Experts say official figures are greatly undercounted. 

Nations around the globe have responded to India’s crisis, by sending oxygen cylinders and other medical equipment, but many hospitals around the nation are struggling with a shortage of the life-saving equipment.

Church facilities for suffering people

Cardinal Gracias who had a virtual meeting with Caritas India on Sunday, said they are finding innovative ways to bring relief to those affected.  He has also been holding meetings with Catholic hospitals, to step up assistance to the people.  “We are also coordinating financial aid to buy more ventilators and increase our medical equipment to save the lives of our people, which will be available for people of all faiths and creeds,” the cardinal said.

The president of Indian bishops went on to explain that the Christian healthcare institutions have been focusing largely on rural areas, battling diseases such as tuberculosis, leprosy, AIDS and helping people with disabilities. He said: “Our schools will operate as isolation and quarantine centres; our institutions as vaccination centres; and our religious personnel all over the country will begin our campaign to encourage people to get vaccinated.” 

The CBCI president said Church authorities will continue coordinating with the government in educating people to strictly adhere to preventive measures against the virus such as social distancing, washing of hands with soap and using face masks.  

Meanwhile, Caritas said it is launching 200 Information Sharing Centres to promote appropriate behaviour, prevent the spread of fake news or misinformation and increase the vaccination rate by registering more people through official government portals.  Caritas is also establishing 60 Covid First Level Treatment Centres with beds and isolation spaces in 12 states, to provide primary treatment and care to asymptomatic and mild cases of Covid-19.   Caritas India, a member of the confederation of the worldwide Caritas Internationalis, said several of its international partners have extended their help.

Dioceses lend a hand

Many Indian dioceses have devised innovative ways to help ease the suffering of the people.  Last month, the southern Indian Archdiocese of Bangalore made its facilities available as temporary hospitals for patients affected by the virus. The archdiocese and its hospitals have also launched a telephone helpline to reach out to the victims and their relatives, providing information on the management of the disease at home and the availability of beds and oxygen.  A free meal programme for patients is also well underway.  In August last year, a care centre for Covid-19 patients was inaugurated at the prestigious St John’s Medical College in Bangalore. 

The eastern Archdiocese of Ranchi has also launched a free meal programme for Covid-19 patients and their families at a government hospital.

 

Hope amidst despair

However, while reaching out to the suffering people, the Church in India has had to face the brunt of the virus.  Archbishop Antony Anandarayar of Pondicherry-Cuddalore and Bishop Basil Bhuriya of Jhabua died of Covid-19 last week. Meanwhile many religious and priests across the nation have succumbed to the virus or are struggling with it. A tally last month by Matters India said at least 20 priests had died in a span of one month. 

On May 7, the first Friday of May, the Catholic Church of India and other Christian Churches in the country joined hands in observing a national day of prayer and fasting for an end to the virus.  The initiative took place during the current worldwide "marathon" of prayer called by Pope Francis for an end to the pandemic and the resumption of normal social and work activities.  (Sources: AsiaNews, Crux Now)

“We must remember that our lives are of service; yet it is painful to see lives snuffed out so quickly,” Cardinal Gracias remarked. “The virus has claimed many people we know, and has left many children orphaned who have lost both parents,” he lamented.  However, in the spirit of Christian hope he  said, “We will get out of this.”   (Source: AsiaNews, Crux Now)

11 May 2021, 15:50