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Brothers in arms ask for prayers for India

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Band of brothers (L to R) Fr Peter Antony, MSC, Randwick; Fr Mani Malana, MSFS , Menai; Fr Salas Muttathukattil, MSFS, Panania; Fr Joseph Kunnackattu, Villawood; Fr Dinesh Macwan, Bass Hill; Fr Bhaskar Mendam, MSFS, Panania; and Fr Thomas Kurunthanam, Berala. PHOTO: Alphonsus Fok

Sydney Indian clergy share sense of ‘helplessness’

As India grapples with record numbers of daily COVID-19 cases, Sydney’s Indian priests have come together pleading for Catholics to pray for the sick and dying, and for the work of the Church to continue in their native land.

Distressing scenes of hospitals buckling under the second wave exacerbated by critical shortages of beds, oxygen and intensive care facilities has led local clergy to ask for prayers for their family and friends across the Indian sub-continent.

Equally disturbing are the makeshift mass graves families are being forced to use for their loved ones due to overburdened crematoriums.

“The situation is desperate, people are dying in the streets it’s as simple as that” – Fr Mani Milana

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“The situation is desperate, people are dying in the streets it’s as simple as that. People are terrified to leave their homes, it’s heartbreaking,” Parish Priest of Holy Family Menai, Fr Mani Milana MSFS told The Catholic Weekly in an interview.

“Hospitals are full and there is very little hope for those who cannot get any treatment.
“I have heard about 30-40 priests and sisters have passed away after contracting COVID while looking after people with the disease, their churches are completely closed, it really is a very bad situation and I feel so incredibly helpless.”

Hailing from Kerala, where most of Sydney’s Indian priests come from due to its historically high Catholic population, he said the whole country is in the grips of the unprecedented second wave.

India has now recorded a new daily record of 400,000 infections pushing total cases to more than 19.56 million and a death toll of more than 215,000 people.

Patients suffering from COVID-19 receive oxygen at a hospital in New Delhi on 15 April. PHOTO: CNS, Danish Siddiqui, Reuters

Meanwhile, Parish Priest of St Christopher’s Panania, Fr Salas Muttathukattil MSFS, also from Kerala, said the hardest part for him was not knowing if and when he will see his family again. “My mum is in her 80s and all she does is cry because she doesn’t think she will ever see me again,” he said.

“My fellow priests and I all feel so very helpless and so very, very sad, but we also really appreciate all of the prayers we are receiving from our parishioners.” The Parish Priest of Christ the King at Bass Hill, Fr Dinesh Macwan, said he mostly feels for the many, many impoverished of India’s population who are being completely forgotten in the crisis.

“So many poor people live hand to mouth…they will risk going out for just $3 a day.” – Fr Dinesh Macwan

“I am not here to blame anybody, but today everywhere you go this thing is in the air, so all of India has corona,” he said. “Poor people are just dying, there are no places for them anywhere. So many poor people live hand to mouth so a lockdown doesn’t work, they will risk going out for just $3 a day.

“Common sense tells you, that for those living in a one bedroom house with seven or eight people living together it’s impossible once they get corona not to pass it around.
“And then when people are dying there is nobody to take them to the cemetery, in India there are no undertakers so people are carrying the bodies on their shoulders to bury them.

People carry oxygen cylinders after refilling them at a factory in Ahmedabad, India, April 25, 2021, during COVID-19 pandemic. PHOTO: CNS/Amit Dave, Reuters

“I saw one poor man whose wife died put her on his bicycle handles and pedalled for 100km to take her to the cemetery and then dig the grave himself, because there was nobody to help.

“In my own diocese nine priests have already died from COVID, and there is nothing we can do, I can only ask for Sydney Catholics to come together and pray for this very, very sad situation.

“Only God knows what is going to happen, at this stage nobody can help but God.”
Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India president Cardinal Oswald Gracias of Mumbai has written to bishops asking them to hold a day of prayer seeking divine intervention to save the country from the spreading pandemic.

“We are recording so many new cases of coronavirus every single day, the second wave has hit us like a tsunami and we are yet to reach the peak,” he said. “Added to this is the apparent lack of planning, resulting in a shortage of hospital beds, antiviral drugs, oxygen and vaccines. It could get worse before it gets better.”


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