THIRUVANANTHAPURAM: It is not just the frontline workers who are exposed to the risks of handling Covid-19 cases and facing life-threatening situations. Christian priests who lead services have turned out to the latest vulnerable group. As many as nine priests in the state have succumbed to the second Covid wave over the past ten days. Six of them were from the Syro Malabar Church and three from the CSI church.
At least 15 Christian priests have died of the virus in other parts of the country since the second wave gained strength last month. Among the deceased is a senior bishop too. Archbishop Emeritus Antony Anandarayar, former archbishop of Puducherry-Cuddalore, died of Covid on Tuesday.
According to sources, over 100 priests from various Christian denominations are currently under treatment and in quarantine in the state after turning positive. A few of them are in critical condition, adding to the concern of church leaders.
Fr Bovas Mathew, official spokesperson of the Syro Malankara Church, said seven of the priests of who died recently were from the Thrissur archdiocese under the Syro Malabar Church. “Priests of various Churches in the country are vulnerable to Covid infection because of the nature of their work and services towards society. They had to travel a lot even during the pandemic. For instance, a priest named Rajan Philip of the Orthodox Church died of Covid after he had to attend a service at a home. He had gone there for a prayer to help a Covid patient recover. That patient became negative but the priest tested positive. He succumbed to the infection 40 days ago. If we examine each and every diocese or Church, the number of deaths and infections may be higher,” he said.
Over the past five weeks alone, more than 15 priests from various Churches and dioceses have lost the battle against the pandemic in the country, mostly in northern India. Of these, many are from Kerala. According to a report by ‘Matters India’, an online news portal focusing on the Catholic Church, as many as 14 priests have fell victims to the coronavirus infection between April 20 and 23. They were among more than 20 priests the Church lost to Covid since the middle of March, Matter India reported.
Cardinal Baselios Cleemis, the Major Archbishop of the Syro Malankara Church and a former president of KCBC, told TNIE that the Church has given clear directions to the priests to follow the Covid protocol strictly when they have services and programmes.
“A lot of valuable lives have been lost. Some priests too have lost their lives. As leaders of communities, the priests have the onus to set a model by practising social distancing, wearing masks and by keeping hygiene to show that all can stay safe and healthy to achieve normalcy soon. Value your life and care for others’ lives,” the Cardinal said.
Dr P Gopikumar, state secretary, Indian Medical Association (IMA) said religious gatherings and services should be avoided at least for a while to avoid a disastrous situation. “The priests should suspend such services at least till the situation improves. The IMA has already recommended the government to impose a lockdown. Only that can reduce the spread. Compared to the first wave, young people are more prone to the virus now,” he said.