The Challenge of Covid-19 for SCJMs around the world


All of us lived through a very unique experience of the Paschal Mystery this year. The Lord met us, renewed and empowered us in and through the virtual world!

During the Holy Week, we had an exceptional experience of communion within the congregation and solidarity with our brothers and sisters in the world, confronting the realities of Covid-19, through our retreat on the theme of the Week. In a world that is severely being tested, the message of this Easter rings out loud and clear, dispelling all anxiety and fear. In the words of Pope Francis, at this Easter “we acquire a fundamental right that can be never taken away from us: the right to hope” (Easter Vigil Homily).

Expressions of interest and concern keep coming from various parts of the Congregation to know how we are, both here in the Generalate and in Belgium. Always, the power-bank of prayerful support accompanying every message, letter or call!

The situation in Belgium still remains critical with 30589 confirmed cases and 3903 deaths to-date (13th). The lockdown in force is likely to get extended and we continue to find ways of making the best out of it. Our Sisters, the infected cases, are making good progress and, thankfully, no new cases are reported. However, the casualty seems to be on the rise among the health care supporters.

In other parts of the Congregation, the situation seems to be gaining alarming proportions. We have a glimpse into it through the following accounts that have come in; others will follow:

Ranchi (from Sr. Mary Joseph Valiyankal)

The coronavirus that has taken the world by storm has India in its grips. Having the second highest density of population in the world, social spread is one of the dangers the country is faced with. Out of the 29 states in India, some of the affected states include Maharashtra, Kerala, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, Uttar Pradesh and Jharkhand. According to eminent doctors and social analysts, it is a matter of time that this virus spreads its lethal wings to other parts of the country. The death toll so far has gone up to 200 and the confirmed cases too are rising alarmingly. The people are living in constant fear and anxiety. The timely steps, especially the lockdown, obligatory social distancing and other strict measures taken by the Centre as well as state governments have been beneficial to a certain extend in preventing the rapid social spread of the virus so far. Some of the state governments have taken commendable steps in identifying the affected in the early stage itself and setting up isolation centres, screening facilities and appropriate treatment, community kitchen, distribution of necessary materials and the like.

One good thing that is happening now is that, cutting across boundaries, people are realising the need for God and many are extending their help to the needy in spite of the lockdown and other restrictions. SCJMs of Ranchi province are actively involved in taking care of the migrant labourers during the lockdown. It is initiated by the Arch diocese of Ranchi in co-operation with the Government of Jharkhand. One of our schools in Hulhundu has been converted into a shelter home for migrant-labourers. The place is prepared to accommodate 200 people with all provisions for their stay. They will be brought only after the mandatory tests and screening done. The same set up is done in Chinaki and in Abadganj to meet any emergency situation. Besides helping the diocese to combat this crisis, we also hold sessions to make people aware of the dangers of corona and on how to keep oneself and family safe from contracting the virus. Meanwhile the communities of the Provincialate, Nirmala College and Chianki have distributed food items to around 400 needy families in their respective areas. Sisters are willing and happy to help the needy whichever way possible and as we see the signs and symptoms around today we feel that we need to prepare for worse situation in the days to come.

In the midst of all this fear, anxiety and uncertainty we turn to God, with trust and confidence in His merciful love!

IAN Philippines (from Sr. Fatima Peiris)

As of today (April 12) there are 4,648 confirmed cases of the coronavirus in the country. The death toll stands at 297. The entire country of more than 104 million people is under quarantine.

The country’s healthcare system is facing this added strain of the coronavirus along with tens of thousands of TB patients. The Philippines remains one of the few countries where TB cases continue to climb annually. Today, an estimated one million Filipinos have active TB infections. These now face the added threat of contracting coronavirus due to their weakened immune systems. As the hospitals are jam-packed now with COVID-19 patients, the TB patients are advised to stay at home.

Few supermarkets are open but only limited items are available. The people are going through a very hard and a difficult time: no jobs, no work and poverty.

As a community we have decided to make our life style very simple. Thank God we have some vegetables and fruits from the garden. We remain united with the whole world and spend more time with the Lord. The Holy Week retreat was a wonderful experience for all of us in the community to work for our own conversion and transformation. Each day, we are learning and experiencing many things for our life.

Pakistan (from Sr. Sophia Patras)

As many as 13 localities in the provincial capital of Lahore were partially or completely sealed on Saturday due to a sudden rise in cases of coronavirus. While Lahore remains among the worst affected areas in the province, the areas sealed are old and densely populated, a situation that could potentially lead to these sealed localities becoming virus hotbeds of mass infections.

The total number of countrywide Coronavirus cases stands at 5,015 with 86 confirmed deaths.
A majority of COVID-19 infections in Pakistan are pilgrims who returned to Pakistan from Iran earlier this month.

Pakistan’s Health Ministry has issued directives for the masses on how to protect themselves from the Coronavirus. The government has urged people to avoid public gatherings, wash hands regularly and keep a distance from the virus patients. Despite these public messages, which are being propagated through mainstream media, many people seem to ignore these instructions. Poverty is rampant in the country, with many people unable to make ends meet. They view coronavirus as the least of their problems.

To enforce ‘Social Distancing’ the army has been called in to help the police. At certain places, people breaking ‘Social distancing’ are being punished by the police. The mosques, Churches and all worship places are ordered to close for larger gathering. Only a few persons (4-5) can join the prayers on Fridays or Sundays. People are told to pray at home.

In big cities, the private hospitals are without doctors, and patients with usual sicknesses find it difficult to get treatment. The markets for eatables are open for a certain period of time. Many people of goodwill are taking care of the poor through distributing eatables to them.

Rwanda (sent by Sr. Mary Paul Vadassery)

Rwanda too has its share of painful experiences that the world is going through on account of the pandemic. The Lockdown which was introduced earlier for two weeks now will continue for another two weeks. Both civil and Ecclesial authorities regularly send us specific instructions asking us to observe them very strictly. In case of indiscipline, severe measures are taken by the authorities. In the beginning, people found it very difficult to stay in without meeting and greeting. But now it seems to have become part of their lives. We feel that Corona virus has taught people to be disciplined. The vigilance on the part of the authorities is really to be admired. Even the very uneducated, poor people get worried at the sign of simple cold and cough and run to health centres for a check-up. Ordinary check-up is done for the symptoms and many of them are sent back home after giving assurance and counselling. Only the very doubtful cases are referred to big hospitals for a complete check-up. Bottles of sanitizers are kept everywhere.

To-date, we have 118 cases but they are all mild cases, being segregated in government hospitals. Few of them have already recovered. All the hospitals do the initial check-up of everyone who enters. All private hospitals and health centres are asked to keep places ready to receive patients of Corona in case of necessity. It is quiet and calm everywhere. The big crows which used to come to eat everything we plant in our garden are nowhere to be seen now.

The poor people and the daily workers are the people who suffer the most in our country at this time with no work and no other means of income for their daily living. We do not forget them and try to share whatever we can to help them. This has taught us the spirit of sharing and caring for those in greater need.

Our sisters of Burundi, our neighbouring country where we have one community, are living in another world. So far they have five cases of corona. The frontiers and the airport are closed since two weeks and it continues to be so. For the rest, life continues as usual; there is no lockdown and people move around freely within the country. All institutions function as usual.

The holy week was a special time for us to be in closer union with the Lord with all our sisters of our Congregation. The calmness and quietness around helped us to pray better for the whole world and remember our brethren who are suffering in the various continents. We are extremely happy with our Holy Week retreat experience.

Delhi (sent by Sr. Teresa Attupuram)

As this is being written, India has recorded 16999 confirmed cases and 331 deaths due to COVID 19. The good news, however, is the recovery of 1086 positive cases. Delhi records the second highest infected cases with a total number of 1154 confirmed cases and 24 deaths. A national lockdown was announced on 24th March for 21 days and now it is reported that it could be extended up to 30th April. The government has also imposed travel bans and all the tourist sites, schools, cafes, restaurants, sports clubs and other public spots are closed temporarily. The lockdown has affected mainly the migrants and the poor, especially the women, children, differently abled, the marginalized and the displaced. They have no work, no money, no food and no proper place to stay. The number of vehicles on roads has reduced drastically and so the pollution too has come down.

Many Christian and Non-Christian NGOs have come forward for distributing food packets, groceries, medicines and other essentials for people to survive. All our communities in the province are involved in identifying the needy ones and offering help to the extent it is possible in the given situation. In remote areas food items are not easily available for purchasing. Nevertheless, our Sisters are laboring hard and are trying to reach out to the victims of the pandemic with the help of shop owners, the police and government officials. Both central and state governments have also taken a lot of measures to help the poor, such as providing with make-shift houses, shelter homes and rations for all. Besides, medical professionals are being trained to manage Covid-19 cases and testing facilities are augmented by roping in both private and public medical colleges, along with 14 mental health institutes across the country.

In the Province all the Sisters, helpers and our collaborators so far are protected from COVID 19. For many of us living indoors for such an extended period of time is a new experience. Many of our communities do not have Holy Mass and we missed the Holy Week and Easter Services. However, we are finding new ways to share and celebrate faith creatively during this pandemic. There is a thirst in everyone to remain connected with the lifeline / God.

St. Bernard, Congo (sent by Sr. Angèle Benabiabo)

The Covid-19 pandemic in the Democratic Republic of Congo is documented in the country from 10 March 2020, when the first case was confirmed in the territory.

On 19 March, Felix Tshisekedi announced the closure of all schools and universities in the country.

On the evening of 24 March, President Félix Tshisekedi declared a state of emergency during a televised address, and the isolation of the capital, Kinshasa. Panic gripped the inhabitants, and supermarkets were stormed with queues several hundred metres long.

On 27 March, the governor of Kinshasa finally decided to postpone the lockdown of the capital to an undetermined date, citing a problem of soaring prices for basic necessities and a risk of insecurity.

On 2 April, he announced new lockdown measures for the capital, which would eventually affect only the commune of La Gombe, Kinshasa’s administrative and commercial centre, for two weeks from 6 April.

As of 12/04/2020, the total number of confirmed cases stands at 235, since the beginning of the epidemic declared on 10 March 2020. In total, there have been 20 deaths.

Five provinces are affected. These are Kinshasa with 223 cases. North Kivu has 5 cases. There are 4 cases in South Kivu, 2 in Ituri and 1 case in Kwilu.

Since 2018, DR Congo has been fighting the worst Ebola epidemic in its history, described as an "international health emergency" by the WHO. However, in early March 2020 (when the presence of the coronavirus is beginning to be documented in the territory), new cases of Ebola detected are becoming increasingly rare, and the official announcement of the end of the epidemic is envisaged by the authorities for 12 April. DR Congo has also been fighting a major measles epidemic for more than a year, with the WHO having identified 335,000 infected children, including 6,300 deaths, particularly in the north of the country.

To be continued…

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Ceremony of Sr Charitine Impuhwe’s Perpetual Vows in Ghent

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