How Churches in India Serve During the Pandemic?

India, with more than 1.3 billion people, is the second-most populous country in the world. India is a country that, among many other things, stands out for its cultural and commercial wealth throughout its history. The Indian economy is the third-largest in the world and the sixth in terms of nominal GDP. In addition to a religiously plural, multilingual, and multi-ethnic society, India is also rich in diverse flora and fauna and has developed protection plans and programs, creating protected habitats.

Like almost every country in the world, India has felt the strong economic impact caused by the covid-19 pandemic. Since the beginning of the pandemic, India has reached 17 million infected by April 2021, the second wave of cases that have added record numbers of infections and deaths, revealing a lack of hospital infrastructure.

Unfortunately for Hindus, their country continues to have the worst confirmed infection rates in the world. These figures reach almost a third of its population in just a couple of weeks after the first wave of the pandemic. By September 2020, the cases of COVID-19 infection had decreased, so it was thought that India could have achieved the so-called "herd immunity", they thought that its inhabitants had developed a resistance to the virus. This fact encouraged the rulers to authorize a gradual return to normal life, thus creating a feeling of premature victory in the people. This premature optimism, in addition to the poor practices of its population regarding basic biosafety measures, such as unnecessary crowds, carelessness in the use of masks and continuous hand washing, and other factors such as the neglect of health centers and perhaps the excessive export of the vaccines that they manufacture caused the arrival of the second wave of the virus to be devastating.

Faced with this health crisis, some countries have offered their help. Such is the case of the United States, which promised to immediately send to India the necessary material for the manufacture of vaccines, in addition to sending therapies, tests, ventilators, and protective equipment. For its part, the UK has also committed to sending oxygen compressors and ventilators. The government of Mexico also offered its help and promised to provide a significant amount of vaccines that they had purchased. It is obvious that in addition to this health crisis, India also saw its economy very affected, and that it will take a long time to recover, thus leaving great doubts about the fate of the most vulnerable sectors of its population.

Another important player in the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic in India is the Catholic Church. It is important to mention that in India, the four most important religions are: Hinduism with 78.9%, Islam with 15.4%, Christianity with 2.4%, and Buddhism with 0.7%. Other religions together reach 2.6%. Currently, despite the risks and sanitary restrictions, Catholic parishes in India are carrying out various solidarity activities to help the most vulnerable during the pandemic. Currently, 110 Catholic institutions are participating in the aid. The church of San Michele in Mahim, for example, distributes around 250 food packages to the youth of the parish. This help is carried out in large part, thanks to the help of volunteers and the nuns of the Betania convent. Another example is the Church of Our Lady of Mercy in Pokhran, this church has conducted relief campaigns to support temporary health workers among others. The Archdiocese of Bombay explained that, through mutual support and cooperation, they will continue their hard work ensuring that all those in need receive the courage and strength to survive with dignity during the pandemic.

Other religious institutions also joined the aid plans for India. Caritas India is the official development arm of the Catholic Church in India and is part of the Caritas Confederation, made up of more than 160 organizations, providing its aid in more than 200 countries, making it the second-largest biggest humanitarian network in the world. In the last 50 years, Caritas India has contributed significantly to the development of the Asian country, carrying out more than 22,000 projects. Currently, during the pandemic, Caritas India has been continuously supporting communities, mobilizing its staff and volunteers to run a COVID-19 information center, as well as donating food, primary health care, and medical support, donating oximeters and inhalers.

The dramatic scenario in which the population lives in India has forced churches to temporarily close their doors and not offer their liturgical services. However, in various sectors of the country, despite their shortcomings, members of Catholic churches continue to provide their support to those most in need. In these times of pandemic, the role played by the Catholic Church has been very important in those sectors of the population where the rest of the aid takes a long time to arrive. In addition to the necessary help in terms of food and health services, the Catholic community has done important work, providing moral support, spiritual relief, and strengthening, no less important factors that help people to face this pandemic and above all, to give people hope that the virus can soon be eradicated.

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