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Bishop dies of Covid-19 as India's clerical death toll mounts

More than 520 Catholic priests and nuns have died from the coronavirus in the country since April

Bishop dies of Covid-19 as India's clerical death toll mounts
Covid-19 patients are given medical attention in Kolkata, eastern India, on June 10. (Photo: AFP)

A 65-year-old Catholic bishop has died of Covid-19 in eastern India's Jharkhand state, taking the number of bishops’ deaths to four since April when the second wave of the pandemic began to sweep the country.

Bishop Paul Alois Lakra of Gumla died on June 15, more than a month after he tested positive for the infection and was admitted to the Constant Lievens Hospital in state capital Ranchi.

More than 520 priests and nuns have died of Covid-19 in India. At least 270 priests, nine religious brothers and 252 nuns had died from the virus as of June 15, according to a list prepared by Capuchin Father Suresh Mathew, editor of church-run Indian Currents weekly.

“Covid-19 positive cases in India have drastically declined in June. However, deaths due to infection are still on the high side,” said Father Mathew, who closely monitors the pandemic situation.

Father Mathew has taken the initiative of documenting Covid-19 deaths of Catholic priests, brothers and nuns after dioceses and religious congregations began to report the deaths of clerics.

“The death toll would go up further if we added those who died of post-Covid complications, which we have not done,” the Capuchin priest said.

The pandemic has destroyed many families and we can only pray for the mercy of God to keep us all safe

“Many priests and nuns, just like several others, also die after having Covid-19-negative certificates. Such deaths are a matter of serious worry for all of us.” 

Attending funerals is also turning out to be dangerous. The deaths of Divine Word Father Gregory Ekka and his sister, nun Josephine Ekka, a member of the Franciscan Sisters of Mary of Angel, are examples.

The priest must have contracted the virus during his pastoral duties, which included funerals. The nun attended the funeral of her father in Odisha state and soon got infected with the pandemic and died. Father Ekka could not attend his father’s funeral as he was already sick by then.

“The pandemic has destroyed many families and we can only pray for the mercy of God to keep us all safe as many continue to die in post-Covid treatment as well,” Father Mathew said.

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A church official said Bishop Lakra’s death has shocked people because he died despite receiving the best medical care for almost a month.

His health began to deteriorate on May 17 and he was moved to a specialized private hospital in Ranchi for better care, the official said.

“The medical team there tried their best but the prelate breathed his last at 1.30am on Tuesday,” he added.

Bishop Lakra’s funeral is scheduled for June 16 at his St. Patrick Cathedral in Gumla town. Jesuit Archbishop Felix Toppo of Ranchi will lead the funeral prayers, said an official communication.

He became the bishop of Gumla in 2006 at the age of 50 after serving the diocese as a priest for 18 years. He entered a seminary at the age of 21.

Other bishops who succumbed to Covid-19 include Bishop Basil Bhuria of Jhabua, retired Bishop Joseph Pastor Neelankavil of Sagar and Archbishop Antony Anandarayar of Pondicherry-Cuddalore.

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