India in the Grip of Covid: “It is only our faith that keeps us going.”
India is all over the news these days. The pandemic, which is a threat to people worldwide, has delivered a particularly hard blow to the country. ACN is actively supporting the local Church. The charity has funded around 27 projects (worth over $555,000) to support priests and Sisters in India through existence aid and Mass Offerings to help them continue with their work in these very difficult times of COVID. Msgr. Anil Couto, Archbishop of Delhi, spoke to ACN about his evaluation of the situation.
ACN: Archbishop, how is your country living through a situation of over 350,000 daily Covid cases ?
Msgrs. Anil Couto: I would describe the situation as being very distressful, very uncertain for people, a moment of pain, suffering and anxiety for everyone because we do not know who will be next and how this virus will spread and infect people – and how we can save ourselves from the infection. We don’t know how the next day will unfold. It is only our faith that keeps us going.
Why is this second wave so big now?
Since assembly elections were taking place in five different states of our country and these were scheduled all through April, huge political rallies without any regard for Covid protocols were allowed. This was also because some of our topmost political leaders were fully involved in the campaigns. A religious gathering called the Kumbh Mela which attracts pilgrims in millions was also allowed and Covid protocols were not enforced. I would say we actually triggered the infections because we did not take enough precautions. We took it easy. Therefore, I think we are paying the price for it now.
We have learned that 14 Catholic priests have died in India between April 20-23, alone. How is the situation in your diocese?
In my diocese, three religious Sisters have died one was only in her 50s; she died all of a sudden. We also lost members of the laity; they were very active both in the parish as well as at the diocesan level; but no priests so far, thank God. Just few days ago we have our 2-day online meeting of the CBCI Standing Committee consisting of about 40 bishops. We shared what we are going through, but we have not yet begun to collect our data of how many people have died in each diocese, because it is too painful to ask for numbers at this particular time.
What is the situation in the Holy Family Hospital, which belongs to the Archdiocese of Delhi?
It is stressful due to the overwhelming number of cases and constant shortage of oxygen and even staff. As in the rest of the country, we cannot provide beds to all the patients wanting admission and such patients are treated in the emergency itself until a bed is available. There is no preferential treatment in our hospital ; patients are admitted on a first- come- first served basis. People have trust in the Holy Family Hospital because we have a long-established tradition of good nursing care by God’s grace. Our doctors and nurses try to give a very personal attention to every patient.
What about the sacramental care for the parishioners?
We are not able to give the anointing of the sick, it is impossible for the one who is affected by Covid to receive this sacrament. And unfortunately, if the person dies, then there is no question of the priest coming anywhere close to the body.
The priest has to wear the full PPE (personal protective equipment) suit, and recite the prayers from a distance. So, this is the very pathetic situation for the Covid victims. It is very painful for the family as well; I have experienced it myself. No family member can come to the funeral, either. We are trying our best to see in what way we could give comfort and consolation to our people through online media. We have some videos and a team of counsellors in the diocese who have come forward since last year to help people to overcome their grief. But these are only some very small things that we can do – just a drop in the ocean.
Sometimes when we have this kind of crisis, people will say, the most important thing is to give the people social or medical care. Here at ACN, however, we focus on supporting the pastoral work of the Church. Could you tell our benefactors about the importance of pastoral work in this time of crisis?
The importance of pastoral work in this time of crisis cannot be exaggerated. The more we do, the more is needed. I am glad that in the Archdiocese of Delhi our pastors, since the beginning of the pandemic in early 2020, have tried to reach out to their people with family visits, house blessing, support in time of sickness and death, online Masses, regular meetings of the parish council and other associations which came in the physical mode after the lockdown was lifted by August 2020. Provision was made even for holy communion and Sacrament of Reconciliation. Just now, with the fresh wave of Covid 19, we are back again in virtual mode. All the commissions of the archdiocese, the commissions for youth and catechetics in particular, have been conducting online courses and sessions during the pandemic period.
Do you have a message to our benefactors?
I just want to thank all our benefactors for all the solidarity they always manifest with the Church in Need and right now undergoing much suffering due to Covid 19. So, I would say: please keep it up! Your concern and your love give us the strength to go ahead and be courageous witnesses of the Good News of Our Lord Jesus Christ.