By Robin Gomes
Pope Francis has expressed his solidarity and closeness to the people of India, ravaged by the second wave of Covid-19 infections that has overwhelmed its healthcare system. “At this time when so many in India are suffering as a result of the present health emergency, I am writing to convey my heartfelt solidarity and spiritual closeness to all the Indian people, together with the assurance of my prayers that God will grant healing and consolation to everyone affected by this grave pandemic,” the Pope wrote in a message to Cardinal Oswald Gracias of Bombay, the president of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India (CBCI).
The Holy Father particularly expressed his closeness to “the sick and their families, to those who care for them, and in particular to those who are mourning the loss of their loved ones.”
“I think too of the many doctors, nurses, hospital workers, ambulance drivers and those working tirelessly to respond to the immediate needs of their brothers and sisters. With deep appreciation, I invoke upon all of them God’s gifts of perseverance, strength and peace.”
Pope Francis expressed his gratitude to the Catholic Church of India “for its works of charity and fraternal solidarity carried out in the service of all.”
“I think especially of the generosity shown by so many committed young people. I join you in commending to the Lord’s infinite mercy the faithful who have lost their lives, not least the great numbers of priests and men and women religious.”
“In these days of immense grief, may we all be consoled in the hope born of Easter and our unshakeable faith in Christ’s promise of resurrection and new life,” the Pope concluded, imparting his blessing.
The message of Pope Francis comes as the coronavirus continues to take record tolls in the country, including in the Catholic Church. On Thursday, the number of new infections crossed the 400,000 mark for the second time since the devastating surge began last month. The 412,262 new cases pushed India's official tally to more than 21 million. The Health Ministry also reported 3,980 deaths in the last 24 hours, bringing the total to 230,168. However, experts say the scale of the disaster is much higher as official government reports are undercounted.
Demand for hospital oxygen has increased sevenfold since last month, while the government denies reports that it is slow in distributing life-saving supplies from abroad. There is also an acute shortage of hospital beds, medicines, vaccines and cremation facilities, severely straining the country’s fragile healthcare system.
The World Health Organization said in a weekly report that India accounted for nearly half the coronavirus cases reported worldwide last week and a quarter of the deaths. The country has 3.45 million active cases.
The Catholic Church in India that has made many of its facilities available in the fight against the pandemic, is no exception. The virus has claimed numerous victims among its clergy, religious and lay people, who are engaged in its vast network of schools, healthcare services and social service programmes, even amid the crisis. Before the Pope's message arrived on Thursday, Bishop Basil Bhuriya of Jhabua in the central India state of Madhya Pradesh had succumbed to the virus. Retired Archbishop Antony Anandarayar of Pondicherry-Cuddalore in southern India passed away the previous day. A tally last month by Matters India reported that at least 20 priests had died in a span of one month. Many more are also infected and dying.
Meanwhile, the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India, National Council of Churches in India, and Evangelical Fellowship of India are coming together in observing May 7, Friday, as a Day of prayer and fasting for healing and an end to the pandemic in the country.