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Bangladesh's churches struggle to serve as Covid-19 rages

As the pandemic spreads and causes economic hardship, churches have no income to help hard-hit people

Bangladesh's churches struggle to serve as Covid-19 rages

Churches in Bangladesh have been closed for a long time due to the deteriorating Covid-19 situation. (Photo: Stephan Uttom/UCA News)

Churches in Bangladesh are struggling to provide the faithful with spiritual and pastoral care and to assist marginalized communities amid a drop in donations during the worsening Covid-19 situation.

A deadly third wave of the pandemic hit the country in June as the more contagious Delta variant caused a massive spike in infections and deaths.

The country registered its highest daily total of 11,651 cases on July 8, a day after its daily death toll passed 200 for the first time since Bangladesh recorded its first three cases in March last year.

Data suggests the virus has spread to rural heartlands as districts close to the Indian border record more infections and deaths amid an acute shortage of beds, oxygen and medical staff.

The fresh surge of the contagion forced the government to enforce a strict nationwide lockdown from July 1-14.

Khulna, a major district and divisional city in southern Bangladesh, has become one of the hardest-hit areas from the Delta variant. It recorded 71 deaths and some 1,700 new cases on July 9.

We have advised people to stay home and pray from there. Many people don’t have enough food to have three meals a day

The situation is “extremely horrific” and many Christian families have been infected, said Father Bablu Lawrence Sarker, secretary of the health commission in Khulna Diocese.

The priest said spiritual and pastoral services have been suspended for a long time and there is a fear church attendances might drop significantly even when things return to normal.

“We have advised people to stay home and pray from there. Many people don’t have enough food to have three meals a day and church groups are trying to help them as much as they can,” Father Sarker told UCA News.

Catholic youths are helping people register for vaccines and attend vaccination centers, he said.

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Unlike the first wave of the pandemic, there has been a decrease in emergency support services from Catholic groups except for Caritas, local sources said.

Hubert Sony Ratna, a Catholic development worker in Khulna, said he joined members of the local unit of Bangladesh Catholic Students Movement last year to help hundreds of people with daily essentials including rice, lentils and oil. However, such efforts have stalled this year because of a lack of donations.

Manik Willver D’Costa, pastoral coordinator of Chittagong Archdiocese in southeast Bangladesh, noted that most people are suffering from the worsening economic crisis, resulting in a significant drop in church donations.

"Our economic crisis is worsening as a result of the lockdown. Christians are not giving alms because they cannot come to Mass. As a result, there is no income,” D’Costa told UCA News.

The archdiocese is conducting all activities including Mass online and there is growing concern that attendances for Mass and other liturgy will be much lower when normalcy returns, he added.

Like other dioceses, we are also facing challenges as churches are closed and all activities are suspended while the pandemic is surging

In Dinajpur Diocese, churches are ministering the sacrament of anointing of the sick and performing burials only and all other services remain suspended, said Bishop Sebastian Tudu.

The prelate said four priests have been admitted to hospitals after testing positive for Covid-19 and one was in a critical condition.

“Like other dioceses, we are also facing challenges as churches are closed and all activities are suspended while the pandemic is surging,” Bishop Tudu told UCA News.

Bangladesh has recorded a total of 989,219 Covid-19 cases and 15,692 deaths.

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