ACN helps Catholics in India cope with second wave of COVID-19

AID TO THE CHUCH IN NEED (ACN) has approved a fresh major $6M aid package to help priests, religious, as well as catechists and their families in more than 140 Indian dioceses, which are struggling to cope with the crisis.

ACN’s new COVID-19 relief package, which covers almost 200 separate projects, will provide vital Church personnel with the essential means to continue their pastoral ministry during the pandemic. The aid measures will also help the poorest and most needy parishes to support those who are sick with COVID-19 or suffering from its consequences. Some of the projects will benefit staff and the families of those working in institutions run by religious congregations and dioceses—especially schools and pastoral centers—which have been forced to close because of the pandemic, leaving many people without any source of income.

When India was hit by the first wave of COVID-19, between June and September 2020, Catholic communities were generally able to manage during the crisis by drawing on their slender reserves and savings—but this second massive wave of infections has caught the dioceses with empty coffers. The local congregations especially, which lack any kind of support network outside the country, have been left so short of funds that they do not even have enough to buy food.

Bishop Bhagyaiah Chinnabathini of the Diocese of Guntur, one of the most severely affected areas in the state of Andhra Pradesh, in the southeast of the country, describes the critical situation faced by his diocese: “The churches, schools and all our centers of training and animation are closed. We have 171 priests working in the diocese and 590 catechists helping us in active ministry.” All of them have been profoundly affected by the pandemic. Tragically, he has also lost five of his priests and many of his catechists to COVID-19. “Many others are sick,” he adds, and “we are unable to meet the medical bills of our priests.”

“The churches are closed,” and so “the priests are celebrating Masses privately,” the bishop explains, and of course people are in no condition to be able to offer Mass Intentions in such a critical situation. And so “we need Mass intentions for our priests.”

This disastrous situation is affecting the Church throughout India and in every federal state. In response, ACN International has launched an extensive nationwide aid program, which includes the supply of Personal Protective Equipment—facemasks, disinfectant gel, gloves, and face shields, etc. – for the priests, catechists and religious, who, as part of their work, mission, and vocation, are still regularly in face-to-face contact with people struck with the virus.

Funeral of priest who died from COVID-19 in the Tezpur Diocese, Assam state, India

Catechists play a vital role in India, in many places providing an indispensable link between the central parishes and outlying villages and settlements, which often number 30 or more in a single parish. Thus, they are the vital connection between the priest and people. They know the local faithful, organize the prayer life of the community and help prepare people for reception of the sacraments when the priest is eventually able to visit. In the current situation, their role has become still more important, given that in many places it is now quite impossible for the priest to visit, on account of government restrictions.

The aid package will also make possible the purchase air filtration appliances and oxygen masks for emergency use. The program will also include help for the medical treatment and care of priests and religious suffering from COVID-19, as well as emergency support for the neediest families in the poorest parishes of the dioceses.

More than 140 Indian dioceses will be receiving support from ACN. The COVID-19 relief package will include a total of 136 emergency aid projects and measures to combat COVID-19 and 56 projects involving Mass stipends, coming to a total of more than $6M.

—Maria Lozano