Amidst the Covid-19 pandemic, churches of different denoinations across India have been taking proactive measures to curb the spread of infection. In fact, efforts began a fortnight ago with archbishops and other top clergymen issuing directives and guidelines to their flock.
On Wednesday, Archbishop Thomas D’Souza of the archdiocese of Calcutta issued a statement laying down additional guidelines for funerals and confession rituals to the 1,40,000 Catholic community members in the state in order to help check the spread of the Coronavirus.
The statement said, “Whenever a funeral has to take place in a Parish, the Parish priest along with a member of the family of the deceased will inform the local police about the funeral and take the body directly to the cemetery with very few people present. The priest conducts the burial rite at the cemetery. A Holy Mass for the repose of the deceased person may be celebrated by the priest privately and an official Requiem Mass after the lockdown ends and the situation becomes normal.”
The archbishop has also suspended individual confessions. In a previous directive issued on March 20, he had suspended public celebration with a congregation of the Holy Mass, Way of the Cross and Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament. He had urged people to stay and pray at home.
The archdiocese of Bombay had also issued similar guidelines on March 17 when Cardinal Oswald Gracias, Archbishop of Bombay, exempted people from attending mass. Now, the church has gone a step further and offered parishioners the option of watching mass on their laptops and cell phones. The links to view mass for different churches in Mumbai may be viewed here. In fact, the Eucharist service held on March 24, 2020 was broadcast live on Youtube. The video may be viewed here.
Meanwhile, in Delhi, the Evangelical Fellowship of India (EFI) issued a statement saying, “In India, the near month-long lockdown will be a challenge, socially, economically and medically. It will the more severe for the poor, the homeless, the landless, the Tribals, the Dalits and sections of religious minorities for whom life, even in normal times, was difficult.” It has made the following appeals:
• To Churches to survey the need in their communities and be involved locally as much as they can while keeping necessary precautions. We need to serve the poor and the needy in our communities.
• To young people in our member congregations to reach out to the aged and people who need help, near their homes and help them procure essential items and to check on them regularly to find out how they are doing.
• To our organizational and institutional members including schools, colleges, hostels, seminaries as well as Churches in cities and towns to contemplate if their premises can be used as places of shelter to migrant labourers or people in need. We are sure that the local authorities in cities and towns would appreciate help in this manner.
• To our member hospitals and hospital associations to continue to provide the excellent service that they are already rendering in these difficult circumstances.”
However, it has advised against “running open community kitchens which may generate crowds. However, Churches may prepare food, pack it in disposable containers and may distribute them to the homeless or people in need with the help of the local authorities.”
In a previous statement issued on March 14, the EFI had said, “We call on congregations to promote, instruct and endorse the health advisories published by the Government of India, State Governments, the World Health Organization and other healthcare organizations at national and local levels. We also call on churches across the denominational spectrum to cancel or postpone all public gatherings like retreats, seminars, conferences, conventions, etc. up to an indefinite period.”
Meanwhile, the Christian Coalition for Health, that has over 1000 hospitals and over 60,000 inpatient beds across the country, has written to Prime Minister Narendra Modi expressing their willingness to collaborate with the efforts of the Government.
Fr Dr Mathew Abraham, C.Ss.R, the President of Christian Coalition for Health, and the Director General of the Catholic Health Association of India, in his letter written on the 26th of March, stated that the coalition will work in the best way possible for the health and wellbeing of the people of this Nation, to fight this pandemic. The letter which was also signed by Dr. Priya John, General Secretary Christian Medical Association of India and Dr. Sunil Gokavi, Executive Director Emmanuel Hospital Association, informed the Prime Minister of the preparations that were done by the Member hospitals to face the challenges posed by Covid19.
In a press statement Fr George Kannanthanam, Secretary, Catholic Health Association of India, reiterated the community’s commitment to healthcare in India saying, “Focusing on the rural areas, the Christian healthcare institutions have been in the forefront of fighting various diseases like TB, leprosy, HIV. Christian healthcare institutions have been working on people with disabilities in a significant way. Over one thousand Sister Doctors and about 50,000 Catholic Nuns render their selfless services in the health field in India.”