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Swine flu closes ´Asia´s largest seminary´

Updated: August 12, 2009 11:26 AM GMT
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A Catholic seminary, billed as Asia´s largest, was closed on Aug. 11 as swine flu spread rapidly in Pune, western India.

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Father Job Kozhamthadam

"Precaution is better than cure and therefore we have shut down Asia´s largest seminary for one week from Aug. 11," said Jesuit Father Job Kozhamthadam, president of the Pune-based Jnana-Deepa Vidyapeeth (University of Knowledge Light), earlier known as the Pontifical Athenaeum. By Aug. 12, swine flu had claimed its sixth victim in Pune, which reported India´s first death from the disease on Aug. 3. Elsewhere in the country, the virus has killed nine other people. "The airborne disease is entrenched in the city and the virus is spreading fast," Father Kozhamthadam said, adding that the seminary followed a state health directorate advisory to close all educational institutions. "We don´t want to lose any candidates training for the priesthood" as the virus can be easily transmitted "through coughing, sneezing and human contact," he added. The Jesuit priest also said more than 770 students of philosophy, theology and doctoral courses stay at the campus. About 10 percent of students are women and 15 percent are from overseas. The Indian students come from 68 dioceses and 49 religious congregations. The 116-year-old institute has 30 resident and 25 visiting teachers. On Aug. 12, Bombay archdiocese closed all its 150 high schools and five colleges for a week. "We don´t want to expose our students to the virus, which is now spreading rapidly," Father Gregory Lobo, secretary of the Bombay Archdiocesan Board of Education, told UCA News.
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Jnana-Deepa Vidyapeeth (University of Knowledge Light), billed as Asia’s largest Catholic seminary

On the same day, the Maharashtra government ordered the closure of all educational institutions for a week and shopping malls and cinemas for three days. Meanwhile, two Vatican officials have confirmed their participation at a national seminar the Indian Bishops´ Committee for Science, Religion and Society plans to hold in Pune from Aug. 18-20. Its theme is "The Christian Faith in a World of Science: Challenges and Opportunities." Father Kozhamthadam, an organizer, said Polish Father Tomasz, executive director of the Dicastery of the Pontifical Council for Culture, and Pilar Father Theodore Mascarenhas, undersecretary of the council´s Asia Desk, have said they will attend the seminar despite the swine flu outbreak. "Some Indian participants have canceled their visit to Pune and we will make a decision whether to hold the seminar or not in a couple of days in consultation with Archbishop Thomas Menamparambil of Guwahati, the chief organizer of the seminar," Father Kozhamthadam said. The more than 100 invitees to the seminar include bishops, provincials and other Church leaders from India, the priest said.

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