Fr. Vincent Asiimwe Rutaremwa is a Comboni missionary priest working in Belo Horizonte, municipality of Contagem, Brazil. He explains the reality of the pandemic in his parish.
Brazil belongs to the American continent and specifically, South America. It’s one of the biggest countries in the world with about 210 million people and 85% of its population in urban areas. The Comboni missionaries have been present in Brazil for about 70 years in different states. Most of our missions are located among the poor and the abandoned as our Charism always calls us to serve. We belong to the Archdiocese of Belo Horizonte in the state of Minas Gerais- south east of the country.
Our parish is located in the outcasts of the big city of Belo Horizonte in the municipality of Contagem. Since the coronavirus started to spread in the country, the mayor of our city immediately put rules of social isolation and he obliged all the surrounding municipalities to do the same. This is not the lock down as we have seen in Uganda, but just a soft way of reducing the number of people going out, leaving only the ones that work in essential departments.
The mayor also put the campaign hospital (temporary hospitals) to receive the infected people from within as well as from other surrounding municipalities. As we talk right now, our city is one of the examples ahead of fighting the virus in the country. However, we can also see that there is a lot to be done in other sates like São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro, and the northeast and northern states particularly in Manaus. In such states, the spread of the virus is high and thus the numbers of deaths are increasing day and night. Although in some of these states the governors and the mayors tried to put restrictions, the people continued to protest against the measures. The virus is spreading in the slums of the big cities and as we talk, the hospitals are overwhelmed.
Averagely speaking, Brazil registers new cases of COVID-19 between ten thousand and above and the death range of over 500 people per day. We cannot be exact on the numbers, but Brazil is heading all the Latin American countries. Political chaos. There is no way we can speak of COVID-19 without mentioning the political crisis in the country.
Ever since the first cases in the country, the president of the republic has never believed in the existence of the virus in the country. In his several speeches, he always denied its existence to the extent of saying that it was the “invention” of the media to put panic in the people. In one of his speeches, the president was quoted calling the virus “some virus” (gripezinha) the diminutive way. He went ahead to show the public that there was no need of closing shops and schools, insisting that the economy would be broken down.
The president criticized all those at the forefront of fighting the virus, especially those who were in favor of social isolation. The Minister of Health who insisted on the guidelines did not survive his wrath as he got demoted.
In the same chaos, the country saw more drama with many officials exiting public office: the director of the federal police was demoted by the president, the following day saw the Minister of Justice and security stepping down accusing the president of interfering in the Federal police.
As if that was not enough, the new installed health minister chosen by the president, in less than 4 weeks decided to step down on the disagreement with his chief (the president) for insisting again on social isolation and refusing to describe cloroquina to the COVID-19 patients. The research department has not yet approved the use of the medicine here in Brazil due to different medical facts. These actions of the president have become a global crisis and attracted numerous criticisms from around the world.
The position of the church
The Episcopal conference of the Bishops of Brazil known as CNBB, published a letter expressing their concern to all the bishops agreed to follow the directives of the minister of heath and WHO, but not the president’s, who had decreed that the churches should open. The bishops urged the priests to close the churches and invited the faithful to remain at home for their own safety. They encouraged the Christians to pray in their homes inviting them to live as the first Christian communities, which were known as domestic churches. All church celebrations and formations are done on TVs, Radio, and other media platforms.
What is being done
Many dioceses have organized themselves through the solidarity action to help the people. Many parishes still celebrate mass through live streaming, as well as being close to the poor and the vulnerable; some prepare food and beddings for the street people. In our parish, we continue to celebrate mass daily, as well as receiving other prayer intentions of our faithful.
We have been involved in distributing some dry food to the poor families of our parish, and through the parish action, some group of women organized themselves to make masks to be distributed to parishioners. On the other hand, the government has also issued out (auxílio emergencial) emergency aid of about 500,000 to each member of the family that is having registered work. Although this has helped, some people have not been able to get aid due to the complicated logistics required to access the money.
As far as the situation is concerned here in Brazil, we don’t hope for the near by going back to normal. The virus is fast spreading, and many specialists speculate more days of confinement in the forth coming months.
As I conclude, I would like to state that the bible talks about virtues and one of them is prudence. If we are not prudent enough, we might be testing God and thinking that we are imperishable. Let us be prudent and wise so as to live longer. Thanks a lot and God bless you all.
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