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Missionaries Pay Ultimate Price in Confronting Ebola in Liberia

Ken-Harper-CC

Aid to the Church in Need - published on 10/03/14

"Ebola doesn’t show any signs of slowing down," Vatican nuncio warns

Sierra Leone is one of the hardest-hit countries in West Africa’s Ebola outbreak, which has killed more than 3,300 people. Now, health officials in the United States are closely monitoring the situaion in Dallas, where a man traveling from Liberia fell ill with Ebola after his arrival in the U.S.

Archbishop Miroslaw Adamczyk, Apostolic Nuncio for Liberia, Sierra Leone and Gambia, spoke this week with international Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need about the Church’s role in West Africa fighting the Ebola outbreak.

How is the Church coping with the Ebola outbreak? How are many missionaries and local religious involved in the fight against Ebola? 

It is not a good moment for Liberia, because the Ebola virus disease doesn’t show any signs of slowing down. We have recently registered a big number of new cases. Between March 22, when the outbreak began, and September of this year, there have been 2193 recorded cases in Liberia, and 1223 people have died.

As to missionaries fighting Ebola, I am sure that all our parishes are engaged in distributing information about the danger of Ebola. Sunday Mass is a good occasion to explain prevention to people. Since the beginning of August, containers with a solution of water and chlorine for washing hands have been installed in public spaces as well, in front of many private homes, and at the entrance of every church. The faithful avoid physical contact—for example there is no Sign of Peace and no shaking hands.

Could you please describe the challenges priests and religious are facing in their fight against Ebola—not only in terms of meeting people’s material needs, but also with regard to the role played by traditional beliefs (such as witchcraft, for example, which can hinder the battle against the disease?

For the Church the priority is to raise awareness of Ebola and of ways to avoid and prevent it. We distribute pamphlets with vital information, for example. It is also necessary to spiritually help the families of sufferers and of those who have died. However, the Church is not able to directly take care of the sick. We lack the necessary supplies and means of protection to get involved on that front. Just consider that the number of healthcare workers who are getting infected is very high. To date, that number stands at 166, and already 80 of them have passed away. 

Church personnel risk their own lives. Some religious have died. What is the message of their courageous testimony for the local population and what does it mean for the Church?

I must mention the Brothers of St. John of God and the missionary Sisters of the Immaculate Conception, who worked in St. Joseph’s Catholic Hospital in Monrovia. All three brothers— Brother Patrick (from Cameroon), Father Miguel (Spain) and Brother George (Ghana)—died from Ebola. Sister Chantal (Congo) also died, while two other sisters—Paciencia (Equatorial Guinea) and Ellena (Liberia)—got infected by Ebola, but, thanks be to God, they have survived and are now doing well.

These good missionaries paid the highest price for their service to the Church and the people of Liberia. The clergy and faithful of Liberia deeply mourn the passing of these good brothers and the sister. But not only religious people who worked at the Catholic hospital were struck down; nine lay persons, including nurses and social workers, died as well. In fact, our hospital is closed now.

Obviously, the death of missionaries will always bear fruit in the future. But as of now, I don’t see that their sacrifice was appreciated enough by the civil authorities and the population at large. But this is a time of fear and panic in Liberia. In such a situation we think mostly about ourselves and we are more selfish.

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