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A few Glimpses into our Life with Corona in the Congregation

October 2020

The Covid-19 pandemic continues!

“Let us make no mistake: our fight against coronavirus is far from over… Close to a million lives have been directly lost to the disease... A global pandemic requires no less than a world effort to end it. None of us will be safe until everyone is safe.” These are the words of Ursula von der Leyen, President of the European Commission.

The media information on the ever-changing statistics of the pandemic is available to us on a daily basis, if not hourly. Again and again, we are reminded of our responsibility to reduce contact with other people as much as possible, staying at home, working from home where possible, and practising physical distancing in order to contain the spread of the disease.

The extracts below will give you some glimpses into the life in the Congregation as we continue to live with the inevitable reality of Covid-19.

Sr. Lucy Jacob

Brussels

Belgium: First of all, we are happy to say that for the moment no sister of Belgium is sick by Covid-19. Unfortunately the number of the infections in Belgium makes much of Belgium into a red-zone today. The short period of ‘oxygen’ in the month June is now totally gone and the authorities announce again very strict measures to stop the tide. However, everything possible is done to keep the medical services going, to protect the homes for elderly from the virus and to have schools remaining open, as long as possible.

It’s a pity that as the infections increase, all activities must stop: a meeting with the new Bishop of Gent, Lode Van Hecke, in our motherhouse is cancelled. Most of the sisters were waiting for the personal encounter with the Bishop. We had also planned commemoration celebration for the sisters who died during the corona time - this must now move to another date. So also the New Year get-together. It is painful for the sisters who need the company of other sisters. The virtual possibilities can’t replace the warm, personal encounters between sisters.

England & Ireland: The government of England has warned us that tougher restrictions than those already in place, may be necessary; so we wait to hear the worst, which could be a total lockdown as we had back last March, at the beginning of the pandemic. To date the lockdown is localised to what is referred to as the ‘Hot Spots’ in various parts of the Country.

In Ireland, the situation is extremely concerning. From midnight on 21st Wed. Oct. the country moved to its highest lockdown tiers for six weeks. This would mean that visits to private homes or gardens will not be permitted and there are to be no gatherings except for tightly controlled weddings and funerals.

Our Sisters in both Countries follow the guidelines from their respective Governments , as do the managers of our Care Homes in both Rosglas (Ireland) and Ansdell (England). So far, no Sister or person in our Care Home have contracted the disease, thank God, and in large part this is due to our excellent Lay Staff who follow the recommendations from the Health and Government Departments.

Ranchi: The Corona does not discriminate! Many of our sisters too were infected by Covid-19. The first SCJM tested positive was in Hulhundu. There was a sense of fear and alarm in the campus. More tests were conducted and 10 sisters were found positive with the virus and 8 staff members. Sisters who were infected remained isolated in a separate building and were cared for by other sisters and our helpers. In Jamshedpur, some 18 sisters of Mercy Hospital were tested positive, besides some doctors, nurses, technicians and other helpers.

The moment one is tested positive, she or he is isolated. Some take around 45 days to recover while others 21 days or one month to recover and rejoin duty. It is difficult for the hospital to function when there is shortage of staff to manage and handle the inflow of patients.

The hospital has made separate wards for Covid patients; right now the number of covid cases has come down. However, the danger involved in admitting and treating patients without the corona test still scare the staff. As winter is setting in there may be a rise in positive cases, but people are learning to live with it and hospitals are getting ready to treat cases with more confidence.

Delhi: In the Province the Sisters are making an effort to face the reality. Being vaccinated by the precious blood of Jesus Christ, we continue our ministries. Online classes are going on in full swing. The students and teachers are busy; so also the nurses and social activists in the Province; forgetting their own health, they give their services without counting the cost.

At present, there is one sister each in the communities of Sacred Heart Convent and Ashirbhawan in Amritsar and the Provincialate in Delhi who has tested positive for Covid 19 and three others who have some mild symptoms. All are on medication and in isolation. All the Sisters of these communities are self quarantined. 

It is a unique experience to be quarantined in one’s own house. Sometimes, we take community life for granted. When we are able to be together for prayer, Holy Eucharist, meals, recreation and other activities, we never realized the value of life in community adequately. Now, however, though physically we are distanced, yet we are united in prayer and we communicate with each other on-line, which is a relief indeed. 

Sri Lanka: As the country was adjusting into new normal with all the inevitable changes, unexpectedly the virus raised its head again on 4th October. As the number of Covid cases is increasing rapidly, the quarantine centers are multiplied and certain hospitals and wards in some hospitals are tuned into Covid isolation and treatment unites.

As this second wave daunts the country, Jesus’s invitation to us “Do you love me… Look after my sheep” has become a tipping point. Our optimal responses at this moment in the history is our prayer for all the Covid infected, for those who are prone to the virus and for those at the service of the patients. SCJMs spend more time on their knees while trying all the possible ways to mitigate the suffering of people, especially the poor and the unemployed. Those under our care especially the elders, children and the working staff are taken care of. Home gardening is booming as we grow our own fresh fruits and vegetables. We spend more time inthe community: praying, working and taking time for each other while exploring new paths forward as Covid 19 is inviting everyone to a significant wake up.

Pakistan: In Pakistan, Covid -19 seems to be only in the newspaper! The people are going about without masks and any other precautionary measures! There are some measures taken in educational institutions, hospitals and banks. According to the news, there are new cases of the pandemic in Karachi and Islamabad and Smart Lockdown has been placed in the affected areas.

The schools are opened in stages, starting with three senior classes and bringing in the rest of the classes after a week or two depending on the place and situation. The schools in smaller towns such as Hafizabad, Kasur and Yohannabad have all the classes in while the others will have them in by the beginning of November. We cannot have more than 20 students in a class; so all the classes are divided into two groups and they come to school on alternate days.

By the grace of God, all our sisters remain healthy and unaffected by the virus. We live one day at a time with the hope that the Merciful Father will have pity on our world by delivering us from this pandemic soon so that we can live the normal life again.

Philippines: The challenges of each day keep reminding and creating an awareness within us to the reality of life around us; the poor becoming poorer each day with no work to earn their daily living. When the situation seemed improving, an unexpected increase of covid-19 cases forced us to cancel or postpone plans already made. The school children have classes online; but not many are able to benefit from this facility.

The government is advising people to look after the sick in their own homes. Life is not going to be easy and it is becoming more and more complicated. Everyone has the same question: how long to continue like this? We entrust our lives in the hands of God because He is the only one who knows what is best for us.

Vietnam: The pandemic brought once again disorder in our daily lives! Nam Hoa parish closed its gate since the Eucharistic celebrations did not take place, except some prayers at different hours of the day. However, there are some parishes at a walking distance that would accept just 30 to 35 people for daily mass. So, we braved out not to be late and be locked out like the foolish virgins who were deprived of attending the banquet with the Bridegroom. This continued about a fortnight and we were able to attend the Holy Mass in the parish again. At the moment, the situation is given out to be normal and under control.

Rwanda - Burundi: Everywhere, we can see that life is starting again, many buildings are under construction, teachers and students are in a feverish mood for the resumption of classes... However, restrictions are always respected: social distancing, wearing a mask, washing hands, no handshakes and no kissing (this measure seems very difficult to observe and undermines our culture of shaking hands and kissing at all times).

On our side, as SCJM being fully engaged in our apostolate, we continue our extra prayers and works of mercy. In our prayers, we remember and stand in solidarity with the peoples of other countries where the pandemic continues to cause much loss of life.

As for Burundi, while the whole world was shaken and panicked by the Covid-19 pandemic, it remained calm. There was no lockdown as elsewhere, no closure of churches or schools, work and life continued as usual. But last June, the pandemic was declared "public enemy number 1" by the new Burundian regime. Among the supporting measures, it decided to subsidise the price of soap and water by half. At present, however, the government has advised the population not to give in to this “unpredictable enemy”.

Mali: Always attentive to the situation, we kept ourselves updated with the latest news. But when we learned that the pandemic was spreading rapidly around the world, fear, anguish and anxiety began to fill our hearts.

Since the registration of the first cases, we asked our workers to stay at home, until further notice, then we ourselves started to do all the work: cooking, gardening, animal husbandry, etc. The majority of the population does not take the disease seriously. Although there are cases of infection and deaths, people live as if nothing happened. Some people laugh at us when they see us wearing the masks. There is total confusion, but on our side we do everything to be careful.

Every Wednesday, we do 30 minutes adoration to pray for all those affected by this disease; imploring divine protection. In spite of the fear that we feel every day, we feel the presence of God in our midst, and have the courage to go out one by one to at least do some small errands at the market. The population encourages us by minimising the disease. Despite this, we often take precautions not to let ourselves be contaminated.

St. Bernard, DR Congo: Messages about protective measures are everywhere...

One of the main ways in which Caritas, the local Church and religious communities, including the Sisters of Charity of Jesus and Mary, in their respective environments, help communities to protect themselves against Covid-19 is to ensure that they are armed with the right information to help them save lives.

Our experience with Ebola has helped a lot because the measures taken to stop the spread of Covid-19 are similar to those for Ebola, but with more emphasis on wearing a mask, lockdown and social distancing....

It’s true that it’s a new way of life that we have to get used to: walking around with masks on, washing our hands often, not shaking hands... a whole education to follow to get into different public places. We learn every day how to live with the coronavirus and how to defeat it. Whether they are pupils or teachers, in public or private schools, they all went back to school on Monday 12th October. Like many of their peers around the world, the Congolese pupils will have to comply with new daily rules: wearing a mask, etc...

St. Vincent, DR Congo: The return to normal life is allowed while respecting the barrier gestures and following the modalities set by the response teams, such as temperature control at each entrance, hand washing, compulsory wearing of masks in public places, regular disinfection of places of activity... For the moment, the general trend is to relax, especially in relation to the wearing of masks, while new cases are still being detected, from time to time, in areas already infected.

In the Province in general, life is starting again in slow motion. We have made smaller and local changes to avoid incurring too much expense... Our lifestyle has completely changed, which requires us to review our living out of the vows. We have minimized the cost of expenses. We are all committed to raising awareness about respecting the barriers gestures in our communities, our schools and hospitals ... Positively, there are the awareness and commitment of each one to value the garden, the fields, the livestock, and in the future consider agro-pastoral communities in order to minimise expenses.

The impact of the pandemic in relation to our Charism is that in our health institutions where our sisters work, there has not been any case of Covid-19. As SCJM, our nursing sisters have continued to work with the sick in spite of the danger they face.


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