Can the church and her faithful really keep to themselves in an attempt at self-preservation during a time of crisis, such as COVID-19? Sister Supriya Vazhappilly addresses this question in her Letter From India in this latest edition of ONE.
India experienced one of the worst COVID-19 infection rates in the world. At its peak, last spring, India recorded 400,000 new cases per day. By fall, the number of new cases had dropped to about 10,000 per day. Despite the dramatic improvement, the battle is far from over. As of mid-December, India had recorded more than 475,000 COVID-related deaths; worldwide deaths were tallied at 5.3 million. However, media reports recently indicated that Indian authorities have been underreporting COVID-related deaths for some time.
In the December 2021 of ONE, Sister Supriya of the Daughters of the Sacred Heart of Jesus writes about her experience ministering to the sick and to those in need at the height of the pandemic.
She also shares her insightful reflection on the role of the church during this crisis — as well as those who work among its ranks — when faced with life and death:
I have observed four types of responses from the church. The first, particularly visible during the first few weeks of the pandemic in India, was total withdrawal from society and its challenges into the safety of religious houses to live in selfish peace and to observe religious practices with no concern for the situation of people on the streets.
Another response was to adopt a very aggressive stance toward the pandemic, the people afflicted with the virus and those who succumbed to it, suggesting the virus was the result of sin.
“We deserve it because our actions are so,” people who held this view would say. “It is a punishment from God.”
The third type of response would indulge in paying lip-service to the victims of the pandemic, voicing what should be done while not lifting a finger to help.
The fourth involved taking a stand — and a very calculated risk — to reach out to people in need by providing food, shelter and medical care, as well as psychological and spiritual support. It involved praying for the victims, for those living in fear and for frontline heroes.
Among the frontline heroes, more than 500 priests and religious men and women have died in India so far, having taken the risk to care for those in need during the pandemic. I knew some of them, including Father Kuriakose Mundaplackal, the vicar general of our Syro-Malabar Catholic Eparchy of Bhadravathi, who was active in COVID-19 relief work. It was a heavy shock for all of us. Yet, the relief work did not stop.
In my case, it strengthened my commitment to take up the risk and to play an active role in the relief work, though with due precautions. These deaths made me reflect on how fragile life is and hence to utilize the precious time available to us in a fruitful manner. In my 13 years with the Daughters of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, and through the experiences of my fellow religious, I have come to realize the challenges we face as religious make our life more meaningful.
The first days of lockdown were a period of trial for me, as I had the feeling of selfishness, a desire to be on the safer side by avoiding contact with people. But the call of my duty and responsibility helped me to rectify this premonition.
With the development of yet another COVID-19 variant and infection rates on the rise, Sister Supriya’s work and the work of the church in India among those most affected by COVID-19 — the poor and marginalized — is far from over.
Read Sister Supriya’s full reflection on the church and COVID-19 in her Letter From India.