Relatives wait to collect the ashes of a Covid-19 victim at a crematorium in New Delhi on May 15. (Photo: AFP)

By Saji Thomas

May 17 2021

Bishop Almeida warns that many priests are dying for want of timely medical care

At least 120 Catholic priests have died from Covid-19 in India in the past month, or an average of four each day, as the pandemic claims about 4,000 lives daily across the country.

Capuchin Father Suresh Mathew, editor of the church-run Indian Currents magazine, listed the names, dioceses and religious congregations of 117 priests who died in the period from April 10 to May 14.

“The list is incomplete. The death toll will obviously go up as we do not have complete details of the priests who died during this second wave,” Father Mathew told UCA News on May 15.

Of the 117 priests listed, 48 are from different religious orders, with Jesuits topping the list with 19 deaths.

The number of deaths will rise when more information is available from all 174 dioceses in India, the priest said.

“Even this initial list is very alarming as we have only some 30,000 Catholic priests and if four die daily, it is a matter of great concern for all of us,” said Father Mathew.

The list of deceased priests includes religious and diocesan priests working for India’s three ritual Catholic churches — Latin, Syro-Malabar and Syro-Malankara.

“Many priests are dying for want of timely medical care. It is a horrific situation,” said Bishop Gerald Almeida of Jabalpur in Madhya Pradesh state.

Since mid-April, India has been reporting more than 300,000 new cases daily, with hospitals struggling to overcome a lack of beds, oxygen and vital medicines.

Sick people have filled hospital corridors and compounds, while many have died inside ambulances waiting outside hospitals seeking medical attention.

“I am shocked to know that so many priests have died when priests and vocation to priesthood are very scarce in the country,” Bishop Almeida said.

“I found fear of death is very high among our priests and nuns, and therefore I wanted to tell them that they are not alone and we are with them.

“We all should ensure that their mental health is protected and maintained positively to overcome this calamity.”

Bishop Almeida’s Jabalpur Diocese has set up a special quarantine center for priests and nuns to ensure their treatment and to build confidence among them.

At least 26 nuns and 14 priests are undergoing treatment in the quarantine center, where four nurses are on duty to take care of them. A doctor visits them daily.

All priests and nuns are instructed to report immediately if they suffer even from a minor fever or headache or any other health issues. Those found to be Covid-19 positive are moved to the quarantine center, which is equipped with basic medical facilities and oxygen.

“We only shift critical patients to specialized hospitals. We take care of others until they recover,” said Bishop Almeida.

He opened the center after one of his priests died in the first wave of Covid-19 last year.

One nun who died in the diocese had not reported to the bishop’s house for treatment. Most people die as they don’t get proper care in the initial stage, he said.

A senior Catholic priest who did not want to be named said poor mental health is a major issue among priests, “although the cause of their death is pandemic infection.”

“Most priests suffer immensely from their isolation in situations like this. Their public contact is restricted during lockdown periods. Despite years of training for pastoral work, they are asked not to have contact with people. That’s shocking for many priests,” he told UCA News on May 15.

“Many priests risked their lives in visiting families and holding pastoral services during the past Holy Week when government restrictions were eased but the pandemic was spreading.”

The World Health Organization described the Covid situation in India as “hugely concerning” after the country reported 3,980 deaths and 326,000 fresh cases on May 14. – Vatican News