Pope Francis prays for pandemic-stricken India

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Pope Francis said Thursday that he is praying for the people of India as they face a devastating coronavirus outbreak.

In a message dated May 6 to Cardinal Oswald Gracias of Bombay, president of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India, the pope expressed his “heartfelt solidarity” with the country’s 1.3 billion population.

He wrote: “At this time when so many in India are suffering as a result of the present health emergency, I am writing to convey my heartfelt solidarity and spiritual closeness to all the Indian people, together with the assurance of my prayers that God will grant healing and consolation to everyone affected by this grave pandemic.”

“My thoughts go above all to the sick and their families, to those who care for them, and in particular to those who are mourning the loss of their loved ones.”

He continued: “I think too of the many doctors, nurses, hospital workers, ambulance drivers, and those working tirelessly to respond to the immediate needs of their brothers and sisters. With deep appreciation, I invoke upon all of them God’s gifts of perseverance, strength, and peace.”

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India reported a daily high of 412,000 new infections on May 5. The country has recorded more than 21 million cases of COVID-19 and over 230,000 deaths as of May 6, according to the Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center,

Actual infection and death rates could be higher than those shown in the official statistics, with medical staff at some hospitals reporting shortages of oxygen required to keep patients alive.

The outbreak has had a profound impact on India’s Catholic minority. Local media have reported that at least 14 Catholic priests died of COVID-19 in the country between April 20 and April 23, and five priests died in 24 hours in the western state of Gujarat on April 17.

Bishop Theodore Mascarenhas, an auxiliary bishop of Ranchi archdiocese, in Jharkhand state, said last week that he had driven priests with COVID-19 to hospital because no ambulances were available.

He held back tears as he described the dire health situation in his eastern diocese in an interview with Colm Flynn of EWTN News.

“I have seven priests in hospital right now, and those are the lucky ones who found a hospital bed. I have another seven seminarians who are sick, lying in their beds in a house close to the hospital. I took them to a house for the aging because there was no place in the hospital,” Mascarenhas said.