At least 400 priests and nuns have died in India due to Covid-19, the bulk of them in the height of the devastating second wave of infections in the country in April and May. The grim figure is provided by Capuchin priest Father Suresh Mathew, the editor of the Church-run Indian Currents magazine, who has been compiling the list of the country’s priests and nuns who have died in harness in the pandemic. According to the update as of Saturday, May 29, 205 priests and 210 nuns have died of Covid-19, bringing the total to 415. The number could be higher as some casualties are not reported.
The list includes 3 bishops: retired Archbishop Antony Anandarayar of Pondicherry-Cuddalore and Bishop Basil Bhuriya of Jhabua died on May 3 and 5 respectively. Retired Bishop Joseph Pastor Neelankavil of Sagar of the Syro-Malabar rite, died on February 17, this year.
Dying in harness
“The high rate of casualties among priests and nuns is due to them working in remote areas where medical facilities are rare,” Fr. Mathew pointed out. “Most of them risked their lives to serve the church and society. The nation lacks infrastructure in the health sector. They lived and worked in rural areas and died amidst them,” he told Vatican News.
The death toll involves 98 dioceses and 106 religious congregations. Despite the risk of infection, dioceses and religious congregations have been reaching out to ease the suffering of the people hit by the pandemic. Many dioceses and congregations have made their facilities available for the treatment of Covid-19 patients. Several othes have started free meal services for hospitalized Covid-19 patients, their families and those quarantined.
Father Mathew solicits reports of deaths from India’s religious congregations and communities and the country’s 174 dioceses to compile his list. He said that the number of casualties has “increased due to asymptotic conditions and late access to hospitals which resulted in late diagnosis”. He said some of those infected went about doing their normal duties. “Gatherings, retreats, meetings etc.” he said, “caused a huge number of infections.” “We should have set a model for others by avoiding unnecessary gathering of priests and religious,” Father Mathew pointed out, adding the death toll would have been much lower had there been enough vaccines and a higher rate of inoculation.
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SOURCE: Vatican News, Robin Gomes