Managing a COVID-19 Crisis in India

The stories of the surging pandemic in India are ghastly. Reports of new variants of the disease — and the appearance of a black fungus attacking those with the coronavirus — resemble the horror stories of the Black Plague that swept through Europe in the Middle Ages, carrying with it huge segments of the population. Even as the country is consumed with the crisis, there appears no clear way out of this disaster. In one diocese, however, the bishop and his team have a plan and a clear course of action.

“My dear brother priests, sisters and the people of God,” began Syro-Malabar Catholic Bishop Sebastian Adayanthrath of Mandya in a recent letter to his flock, “we are going through an unprecedented time in our recent history. We are struck down with a pandemic that is showing its fierce face all over the world and especially in our country.

“We are sad, shocked and are quite uncertain about the future. Many are unemployed, sick in the hospital and at home. Our churches are closed, which means we are not able to come together as a community to console and strengthen each other.”

The bishop notes that during several meetings, he was “deeply touched” to hear of “the arduous tasks taken by many priests, sisters and my beloved people of God.” There are some strong proposals, he added, that “came up for our consideration and I share them with you now with the hope that you will take the necessary steps to address some of the most devastating situations in our field.”

What follows is a combination of directives and appeals for his sprawling eparchy that covers much of the southern portions of the state of Karnataka. These range from:

  • encouraging all to be vaccinated
  • sponsoring vaccination camps on a parish level
  • directing parishes to offer space on parish grounds for those in quarantine as well as those treated for COVID-19
  • requesting that all parishes sponsor ambulances to transport the sick (ambulances he hears “with joy that many of our priests are driving … at the risk of catching COVID-19. It is truly a witness of Christian faith and I encourage them to do so”)
  • procuring of oxygen tanks and medicines for distribution at each parish
  • urging the healthy to donate blood
  • calling for volunteers to assist families with children, especially those whose parents are sick and in hospital
  • expressing support for the cremation of the dead, which is not the custom among Christians in India
  • offering grief counseling and prayers for all those impacted by the virus.

Noting that “it is our Christian responsibility to feed those who are hungry,” the bishop asks the trustee of every parish to identify those who are sick and quarantined and are prevented from obtaining food, asking that the “young people bring the cooked food or groceries to those families in need.”

The bishop concludes by inviting anyone in the eparchy to “share with the wider diocesan community any other innovative models which are being tried out at the parish and community levels to face this pandemic meaningfully.

“My prayers and blessings are with you as we march forward with courage and enthusiasm. God will accompany us in our journey. As someone very well put, “life is not measured by the number of breaths we take, but by the moments that take our breath away by heroic actions.”

“Let us be heroic in these tough times.”

CNEWA is supporting the efforts of this valiant church in taking on the challenges of the pandemic in southern India — at this juncture providing food packages and hygiene kits for 500 families. Please join us in this mission to bring hope amid the pandemic in India.

Michael La Civita is CNEWA’s director of communications.

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