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Wednesday, April 24, 2024

A message to Pope Francis: No priests for dead Catholics in Mumbai!


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Pope Francis leader of the Catholic Church today tweeted:

“Dear Doctors and Nurses, the world saw how much good you did in a very difficult situation. Even when you were exhausted, you continued dedicating yourselves with professionalism and self-sacrifice. This generates hope. My esteem and sincere thanks go to you!”

It is wonderful that the leader of the Catholic Church expresses gratitude to the thousands of doctors, nurses and medical staff around the world that have put their duty first in serving mankind.

While the doctors and nurses risked their lives to save human life from the coronavirus pandemic, some even dying with COVID-19 infections; priests of the Catholic Church in India, in particular Mumbai, prefer to derelict their duty in performing the last rites for a deceased. 

This is not only shocking. It is downright insensitive and inhumane.

I was talking to a young Catholic woman from Mumbai, who lost her Uncle. She requested a priest to perform the last rites for the departed. She was even willing to offer the priest a PPE kit to wear and perform the last rites. But he flatly refused. Instead he offered her some Holy water and a copy of the prayers received during the last rites and asked her to perform the prayers herself with the family.

She told me, “I was told that we could not bury my uncle at the cemetery in Sacred Heart Church as they were not allowing the burial of Covid-19 patients. We buried him at the St Peter’s Catholic Cemetery in Mahalaxmi. The church said priests were not allowed to come for last rites because of some circular that they had received. I finally requested holy water from them and performed the last rites myself and blessed my uncle’s grave

Her case is not the only case.

In fact in a video taken by Cyril Dara, secretary of Christian Reform Unite People, now viral among Christian groups, Father Michael Goveas, chairman of Sewri cemetery, who shockingly told the faithful to “dig your own graves” and perform the funeral prayers and blessings for their relatives. 

Such is the lack of sensitivities shown by the Catholic priests at a time of health crisis, when people have lost their loved ones due to the coronavirus pandemic.

“One would expect a priest to understand the trauma of a family when a person dies. It is a harrowing experience. We understand the fear surrounding the coronavirus pandemic. But the fear of the priests is unfounded. The guidelines issued by the Bombay High Court in accordance with the guidelines issued by the World Health Organisation and the MCGM clearly states that there is no threat of the coronavirus being spread by a COVID-19 deceased,” expressed Melwyn Fernandes, general secretary, Association of Concerned Catholics.

If the last rites is not a necessity to be performed by the Catholic priests when a Christian dies during the time of coronavirus, then it raises questions on whether a priests is required when the coronavirus pandemic is over.

In Mumbai alone reportedly there were over 60 such cases where priests refused to perform the last rites, citing instructions from the Cardinal Oswald Gracias. 

Before burial was allowed in the Christian cemeteries, the government authorities in Mumbai asked all people of all religions to cremate the body of the deceased who died due to COVID-19. Cardinal Gracias, a senior leader of the Catholic Church in India, informed the Christian community in the Archdiocese of Bombay that they would have to cremate the body and then bring the ashes of the deceased relative for burial at the cemetery. 

Now that burial has been allowed in most cemeteries in Mumbai. Catholic priests are refusing to perform the final rites in most cases for fear of the coronavirus affecting them.

It appears that the Catholic priests do not believe in the healing power of Jesus Christ that they preach about.

To most families irrespective of religion the performing of last rites for a deceased is an extremely sensitive moment and it is also a moment of religious belief that the soul of their departed will find peace through the performance of the last rites. 

But to some Catholic priests in India the feelings of the family who lost their loved ones and who put their faith in the teachings of the Catholic Church are not as important as protecting their own lives. 

The interesting bit is that in Italy priests actually went out of their way to ensure that COVID-19 patients where cheerful during their time of pain and even performed the last rites.

A total of 67 Italian priests infected with the novel coronavirus have died due to the coronavirus pandemic.

In India, some Catholic priests fear more for their lives, then reaching out in a Jesus-like manner to the Christians.

Pope Francis must teach the Catholic priests in India about service and humanity in times of the coronavirus pandemic. In the end did not Jesus not fear the lepers or the sick. If the priests, themselves are not going to become the counsellors at a time of global health crisis with acts of humanity, then there is absolutely no need to believe in their preaching of the Gospels at other times in Church. There is really no need of the priests.


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