Aid to the Church in Need (ACN), an international Catholic aid organization, has approved a US$6-million aid package to help priests, religious, and catechists in more than 140 Indian dioceses, which are struggling to cope with the pandemic.
The new COVID-19 relief package covers almost 200 separate projects that will provide vital Church personnel with the essential means to continue their pastoral ministry during the pandemic.
The aid measures will also help the poorest and most needy parishes to support those who are sick with COVID-19 or suffering from its consequences.
The organization said some of the projects will benefit staff and the families of those working in institutions run by religious congregations and dioceses that have been forced to close because of the pandemic.
When India was hit by the first wave of COVID-19, between June and September 2020, Catholic communities were generally able to manage during the crisis by drawing on their slender reserves and savings. Several local congregations, however, have been left short of funds.
“The churches, schools and all our centers of training and animation are closed,” said Bishop Bhagyaiah Chinnabathini of the Diocese of Guntur, one of the most severely affected areas in the state of Andhra Pradesh.
“We have 171 priests working in the diocese and 590 catechists helping us in active ministry,” he said, adding that all of them have been affected by the pandemic.
The diocese also lost five priests and several catechists to COVID-19. “Many others are sick,” said the bishop. “We are unable to meet the medical bills of our priests,” he added.
ACN International has launched an aid program, which includes the supply of Personal Protective Equipment — facemasks, disinfectant gel, gloves, and face shields, etc. – for priests, catechists and religious, who, as part of their work, mission, and vocation, are still regularly in face-to-face contact with people struck with the virus.
The aid package will also make possible the purchase of air filtration appliances and oxygen masks for emergency use. The program will also include help for the medical treatment and care of priests and religious suffering from COVID-19, as well as emergency support for the neediest families in the poorest parishes of the dioceses.
More than 140 Indian dioceses will be receiving support from ACN. The COVID-19 relief package will include a total of 136 emergency aid projects and measures to combat COVID-19 and 56 projects involving Mass stipends.