By Robin Gomes
India’s Latin-Rite Catholic bishops are asking Catholics across the nation to join in the National Prayer Service they are organizing on August 7. The purpose is to pray and express solidarity with those who have been affected in many ways by the Covid-19 pandemic.
The office-bearers of the Conference of Catholic Bishops of India (CCBI), the organization that brings together the country’s 132 Latin-rite dioceses, took the decision during their virtual meeting on Friday, July 9.
“We are all going through a very difficult time and many of us are facing seriously challenging situations on account of the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic,” the CCBI wrote in a circular dated July 10. “Those who lost their dear ones to the virus had to resign themselves to having a dismal funeral rite accorded to their beloved. Many are still in the hospitals, struggling under the grip of the invisible enemy. Many others lost their jobs and are finding it hard to make ends meet.”
The CCBI is asking Catholics to hold a one-hour National Prayer Service on Saturday, August 7, 2021, from 8.30 pm to 9.30 pm “to pray for the departed souls, express solidarity with the grieving families and communities and pray for the health of the world”.
Devastating second wave
India faced a devastating second wave of the pandemic which stretched its fragile healthcare system to almost breaking point with shortages of vaccines, hospital beds, oxygen and other medicines, and its cremation and burial grounds were overwhelmed. On 30 April 2021, India became the first country to report over 400,000 new cases in a 24-hour period. On May 19, the country registered 4,529 deaths, the highest number on a single day in the history of Covid-19.
The government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi faced severe criticism, both within the country and outside, for its negligence and failing to act promptly to secure Covid-19 vaccines for its people, despite the fact that the country is one of the world's biggest manufactures of vaccines.
Several countries sent emergency aid to India in the form of oxygen supplies, medicines, raw materials for vaccines and ventilators.
Currently, India is second to the US in the total number of infections with 30.90 million cases, and third in the number of fatalities after the US and Brazil with over 410,000 deaths. However, health experts believe the figures have been highly under-reported by the government.
Prayers from shrines
The online event will be conducted from the tombs of St. Thomas, St. Francis Xavier and St. Teresa of Kolkata and from the Marian Basilicas of Bandra (Mumbai), Sardhana (Meerut), Hyderabad, Shivajinagar (Bangalore) and Vailankanni. The programme that will include a Eucharistic Benediction will be telecast on Catholic satellite television channels like Shalom TV, Goodness TV, Madha TV, Prarthana Bhavan TV and Dhiyavani TV. It will also be streamed live on leading Catholic YouTube channels.
The bishops requested all, particularly families and religious communities, to join in the prayer service and to get their relatives and friends overseas to join in. To help concentrate on this event, the CCBI has asked that other meetings or programmes don't clash with the time of the National Prayer Service, so many people can participate in it.
A detailed programme will be released later. The bishops have asked that the circular letter be explained to the faithful on Sundays, to ensure greater participation in the country and abroad.
Previous prayer campaigns
Churches around the world have held similar prayer campaigns since the outbreak of the pandemic in 2020. Pope Francis led the way when on March 27, when Italy was in the grip of the worst outbreak of the pandemic, outside Wuhan, China, where it all began. On that day, Italy registered 921 Covid-19 deaths. With the nation under lockdown, the Holy Father held an extraordinary moment of prayer in a desolate and rain-drenched St. Peter's Square, pleading before a crucifix that humanity may be saved from the clutches of the deadly coronavirus. The event streamed live was followed by crowds across the globe.
During the Marian month of May, this year, Pope Francis invited Catholics and Marian Shrines around the world to a marathon of prayer for an end to the Covid-19 pandemic.
Pope Francis inaugurated the prayer initiative on May 1 with a Rosary broadcast across Vatican Media’s platforms. Each day, Vatican News broadcast the recitation of the Rosary at 6 PM Rome time from various Shines across the globe. The Pope closed the initiative on May 31 with another specially-broadcast Rosary.
Indian Christians also observed May 7 as a day of fasting and prayer for deliverance from the devastating second wave Covid-19 that stretched the nation’s healthcare system to breaking point.
A day earlier, Pope Francis had written to Cardinal Oswald Gracias of Bombay, president of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India (CBCI), to express solidarity and spiritual closeness to all the Indian people, with promises of prayer.
India’s Catholic Church is made up of 3 ritual Churches. The Latin-rite (CCBI) has 132 dioceses, and the two eastern rites - the Syro-Malabar and the Syro-Malankara Churches - have 31 and 11 dioceses respectively. Together the bishops of the country’s 174 dioceses make up the CBCI, the apex body of the Catholic Church in India.