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India’s priest death toll surges amid COVID spike


Shutterstock | Manoej Paateel

John Burger - published on 06/01/21

Over 200, including three bishops, have succumbed to the coronavirus.
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The number of Catholic priests in India who have died from COVID-19 has surpassed 200, Vatican News and other news outlets reported. Many of them died in remote areas where medical facilities are rare.

As of Saturday, the number of priests who have died, including three bishops, is 205 — a major blow for a Catholic Church that is a minority religion in India. In addition, some 210 religious women — sisters and nuns — in India have died. 

Capuchin Fr. Suresh Mathew, editor of the Church-run Indian Currents magazine, has been compiling a list of the country’s priests and nuns who have died.  The number could be higher as some casualties are not reported.

“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,” Fr. Mathew told Vatican News.

Despite the risk of infection, dioceses and religious congregations have been reaching out to ease the suffering of people due to the pandemic, said Vatican News. Many dioceses and congregations have made their facilities available for the treatment of COVID-19 patients.  Several others have started free meal services for hospitalized COVID-19 patients, their families and those quarantined, the news service said.  

Fr. Mathew 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 the priests and religious infected went about doing their normal duties.  

“Gatherings, retreats, meetings, etc., caused a huge number of infections,” the priest said. “We should have set a model for others by avoiding unnecessary gatherings of priests and religious.” He added that the death toll would have been much lower had there been enough vaccines and a higher rate of inoculation.

Fr. Mathew looks at the tragic deaths in the light of faith, however, saying that those who died “are enjoying eternal bliss.”

As of June 1, there have been 28,175,044 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in India this year, with 331,895 deaths, according to the World Health Organization.

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