It is one of the “works of mercy”, a sign of attention and compassion towards those who are suffering for having lost their family members: in this spirit, the Indian dioceses offer their services voluntarily to help bury the victims of Covid-19 with honor and dignity. As Agenzia Fides learned, numerous Catholic dioceses scattered throughout India have formed groups of volunteers who, in collaboration with people of other faiths, take care of the burial of people who died of Covid-19.
The first diocese to launch the initiative was Idukki in Kerala, in southern India. On July 20, about 30 priests and 40 young people joined to give coronavirus victims a worthy burial.
Father Mathew Navarakkattu, director of the youth Pastoral in the diocese of Idukki, says that “the burial of people who die of coronavirus has become a serious problem in society. Stigma and fear keep people away from the burial of those people. Some do not know what to do and who to contact when their loved ones die of coronavirus “. The group of volunteers from the diocese will help in the burial of people of all religions and will also collaborate with the local government in the distribution of food, medicines and other services in the quarantine centers of the district, Father Navarakkattu reported.
“About 48 volunteers have already followed a special training course by the local health departments and, in this work, they will follow the directives of the health department, said the priest, who observes: “We want to show closeness, solidarity and proximity also in the tragic event of death”. So far the diocese has lost only one Catholic because of Covid-19, buried in the presence of priests and close relatives.
Also in Kerala, the Catholic organization “Sahrudaya Samaritans”, which deals with charity and solidarity projects in the archdiocese of Ernakulam-Angamaly, has formed a special team to help in the burial of Covid-19 victims. The group is already operational and has already assisted some cases. Father Joseph Koluthuvallil, director of the organization, requested the involvement of 300 parishes in the districts of Thrissur, Ernakulam, Kottayam and Alappuzha, where the Syro-Malabar Catholic Church exercises its apostolate, asking for volunteers to engage in this special service. More than 2,000 volunteers of all faiths, mostly young, responded to Father Koluthuvallil’s appeal.
Another diocese that shared the initiative is that of Faridabad which covers five states in northern India. Here a group of 12 priests, 10 nuns and about 25 laypeople gathered to administer the sacraments, assist and contribute to the burial of coronavirus victims. “About 250 people from 30 parishes volunteered, even though there were four members from each parish”, said Father Julius Job, coordinator of the team of Faridabad, to Fides. The diocese wants to make sure that anyone who dies of Covid-19 in the diocese is given a worthy Christian burial. Father Job reports that “the group will not only attend the funeral, but will reach people with Covid-19 for their spiritual needs. The Church is beside her people in times of great suffering. Our people should not be deprived of the sacraments”, he added.
Archbishop Kuriakose Bharanikulangara, at the head of the archdiocese of Faridabad, also invited his priests to be close and help with the burial of the parishioners, but he specified that, although in the beginning the idea was addressed to Catholics in the diocese, “we are willing to extend our service to people of other faiths”.
The country has faced many cases of discrimination and “stigma” against Covid-19 patients, as relatives, family members and others are afraid of being infected with the virus. “There is a lack of knowledge and empathy among people who care for the sick and victims of the virus”, explained Father Ajaya Kumar Singh, activist and educator for human rights in the State of Orissa to Fides. Father Singh cited an example: when a doctor in the Kandhamal district of Orissa recently died because of Covid-19, the villagers refused to bury him in a local cemetery and wanted him buried elsewhere. Similar cases have also happened in Tamil Nadu, southern India and in the state of Meghalaya, in northeastern India.
“By taking appropriate health and protective measures, those who die of Covid-19 deserve due respect and a worthy burial in society during this pandemic”, he said, recalling that Indian Catholic Bishops have urged priests and volunteers to follow government protocols in burying the victims.
India has reported 1.6 million positive cases and 35,000 deaths due to Covid-19 so far.