From the Global Sisters Report
The global health pandemic has slowed or even halted many things in the world: business, travel, food supply chains, everyday work.
But one thing continues: the work of humanitarians, those who, as the United Nations puts it, “provide life-saving support and protection to people most in need.” That includes Catholic sisters who continue to reach out to the most vulnerable in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Sisters of Charity of Nazareth continue their ministry in the face of ongoing lockdowns and an overall situation that is challenging, even dire.
“People have lost jobs, and so there is no food on the table,” said Sr. Teresa Kotturan, an Indian Sister of Charity of Nazareth and the U.N. representative for the Sisters of Charity Federation, who closely monitors the situation in India.
Kotturan told GSR in an interview that a particular challenge for India now is that internal migrants within the country have lost jobs, most in urban centers, and are returning to their native communities in rural areas only to find no employment. Also returning are Indian migrants who have lost jobs in other countries, many in the Middle East. The returning migrants number in the millions, she said.
“There is anxiety and a sense of hopelessness,” Kotturan said. But, she added, the work of sisters and other humanitarians is aimed at easing the immediate challenges. “Everyone is reaching out as best they can.”
In the northern city of Patna, the sisters distribute various provisions, including face masks, soap, sanitizers, clothing and medicines. In all, said congregational spokeswoman Dana Hinton, the sisters in the Patna province have distributed face masks and other supplies to more than 10,000 families. They also have initiated community-based awareness programs on COVID-19.
In their efforts, the sisters are collaborating with the Patna Diocese, local government bodies and humanitarian groups, such as Oxfam. Hinton also said sisters in India are fasting and using the money that would be spent for their own food to those who need meals.
Hinton said as a sign of solidarity, Sisters of Charity of Nazareth in the United States have donated their federal stimulus checks to boost their congregational efforts in India and elsewhere.
Those moves generate needed solidarity and goodwill at a moment when the Sisters of Charity of Nazareth in India encounter daily challenges.
“Life during the pandemic has been anything but certain,” Sr. Elizabeth Jaya Rani, principal of Nazareth Convent High School in Vasai, recently wrote for a congregational blog.
The western India region “has been the most affected by COVID-19 in the country as of now. Many families of our students have felt its impact either physically, or mentally or financially,” she wrote.
“I have been meeting parents (with all safety measures) who share their struggles with the loss of a job or pay reduction or loss of loved one, the list goes on,” Rani wrote, adding she has been moved by “the sensitivity of this Catholic community here in Vasai so closely knit together that they feel the pain of their neighbors.”
This means providing groceries for families and paying for medical treatment for families personally affected by the coronavirus.
“The pandemic is scary but moments such as these make me believe in the love that humanity continues to profess,” Rani wrote. “The struggle is ours as much as it is the struggle of the families of our students. We pray that all shall be well.”
Another Sister of Charity of Nazareth, Sr. Jessie Saldanha, works at St. John’s National Academy of Health Sciences in Bangalore as head of its pharmacy department. Despite her own struggles with arthritis, Saldanha has made sure that hospital staff members have had the proper personal protection equipment needed to do their work.
“The true family spirit of the medical staff and the supportive administration at St. John’s motivate me each morning to support them in my efforts to keep them all safe,” Saldanha told the community, Hinton said. “These times have stretched me to the limits I knew not. It has brought out an indomitable spirit and a deep desire to care for the patients beyond my personal needs and wants.”
Saldanha praised the generosity of hospital donors for helping the staff procure needed supplies and said she was thankful that “every COVID-19 patient who walked out of our campus keeps me trusting in divine providence.”