As coronavirus hits India, Missionaries of Charity aim to protect ‘poorest of the poor’

As coronavirus hits India, Missionaries of Charity aim to protect ‘poorest of the poor’

Indian workers make face masks which are in demand due to the new virus outbreak at a private manufacturing unit in Mumbai, India, Tuesday, March 17, 2020. For most people, the new coronavirus causes only mild or moderate symptoms. For some it can cause more severe illness. (Credit: Rafiq Maqbool/AP.)

As the number of positive tests for coronavirus in India topped 150, members of the Missionaries of Charity – the order founded by St. Mother Teresa of Calcutta to serve the poorest of the poor – are working to keep those cared for in their institutions safe.

MUMBAI, India – As the number of positive tests for coronavirus in India topped 150, members of the Missionaries of Charity – the order founded by St. Mother Teresa of Calcutta to serve the poorest of the poor – are working to keep those cared for in their institutions safe.

Over 200 people live or work in the Shanti Daan home, run by the Missionaries of Charity brothers in Mumbai. The home’s 175 residents suffer from physical and developmental disabilities.

“We take people from the streets, the destitute, they are mostly challenged, both physically and mentally, we go and pick them up. Dying destitute in the streets, pavements, gutters, bus-stops, railway stations and public places,” said Brother Alexius.

“The destitute is generally in a condition of malnutrition, chronic illness, suffering with open and festering wounds, often with infections of maggots, severe tuberculosis, pneumonia, etc, some are completely dependent on us, even for basic needs like bathing, etc.,” he told Crux.

The religious brother said the police often bring people they find on the streets to Santi Daan, but now they are asking the authorities to test them for the coronavirus first.

“Our consultant doctors told us, to admit persons into Shanti Daan, only after getting them tested for the COVID 19. Additionally, for the next 15 days to a month, doctors told us not to admit anyone; but in case of emergency, in case a dying destitute is brought to us for admission, we have to see both sides,” he said. “Mother Teresa always said, these poor people are in the form of Jesus, so we cannot avoid them. We have to see all side. If a corona positive person comes, then all our patients who are inside are at high risk of infection, so we have to follow the guidelines and the rules.”

India is currently testing less than 100 people a day for the COVID-19 coronavirus, with officials saying that they need to save money for other diseases that are more prevalent in the country. Less than 12,000 people have been tested in the entire country.

This means it’s likely the number of cases of COVID-19 is far higher than suspected.

Facilities run by the Missionaries of Charity in India serve the most marginalized people in the country, including those most susceptible to complications stemming from the coronavirus.

The regional superior for the order in Mumbai, Missionary of Charity Sister M. Terese Joseph said the order is trying to go about their work as normally as possible.

“Mother would say: ‘Trust in God.’ While nothing special is being done – we are praying and going about our work as usual – we are taking all the precautions to protect our children. Since this coronavirus began, no visitors are allowed,” she told Crux.

At the Missionaries of Charity’s Shishu Bhavan facility in Mumbai’s Vile Parle suburb, there are 30 special needs children between the ages of 3 and 13.

“We are very careful with our children, no visitors or volunteers are allowed since this virus began,” Joseph said.

The nun added that at Asha Daan, in Mumbai’s Byculla neighbourhood, there is also a policy of no visitors or volunteers admitted to the facility. Ash Daan has 260 people, including 45 special needs children.

“We are doing everything to protect our children and people,” she said. “We Missionaries of Charity are contemplatives in the heart of the world, which today is suffering from coronavirus. We are praying and we continue to give wholehearted free service to the poorest of the poor.”

Meanwhile, the Archdiocese of Bombay is making efforts to protect the elderly and retired priests living at the clergy home in Mumbai’s Bandra district.

“We have stopped all visitors to the clergy home,” said Father Fitzgerald Fernandes, the director of the facility.

It has 16 retired priests, who are all above 85 and who suffer from various medical issues.

“Our retired priests, who have served the Church and people so faithfully, their protection is our primary concern,” Fernandes told Crux.

On March 17, the Archbishop of Bombay, Cardinal Oswald Gracias, exempted the faithful from their Sunday Mass obligations until March 31. He also urged those who are sick or having a weakened medical condition; anyone who has fever, cough and cold; and all those above 60 to not attend Mass.

Fernandes said the clergy house is also “taking all precautions” to protect its residents.

“Our staff has been specially trained for this: In the hygiene and everything else. No vendors or delivery is permitted; they have to use the rear entrance which is a safe distance away from our aged priests,” he explained.

“Our chapel is closed to outsiders. Our priests spend their time in prayer. As our Cardinal Gracias says: ‘They are a burning furnace of prayer.’ They are praying for India and the world, interceding for the city country and the world,” the priest said.


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