100 CSI priests infected with Covid after Munnar retreat, two die

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More than 100 Church of South India (CSI) priests were reportedly infected with Covid-19 after they attended the annual retreat at Munnar last month. File photo

More than 100 Church of South India (CSI) priests were reportedly infected with Covid-19 after they attended the annual retreat at Munnar last month. Sadly, two of the priests have died and five others are said to be in a serious condition.

Among the infected is CSI moderator and bishop of South Kerala diocese Rev A Dharmaraj Rasalam, who is in home quarantine. Sources in the church said the pandemic protocol was violated during the retreat.

The annual retreat, a conference of priests and community members, was held from April 13 to 17 at CSI Christ Church in Munnar. As many as 350 priests from various churches attended the meet.

Sources said the retreat was held despite requests to postpone the event, and the priests were warned of disciplinary action if they failed to attend. The priests had travelled to Munnar from LMS Church in Thiruvananthapuram in a bus, sources said.

The deceased priests are Rev Bijumon, 52, and Rev Shine B Raj, 43. Bijumon, who was the vicar of CSI church, Kazhukode, near Vattappara, died last Thursday. Shine B Raj, who was the vicar of CSI church, Punnakkamugal, near Thirumala, breathed his last on Tuesday. His funeral was held later in the day.

Many infected under treatment

Many of the infected priests are under treatment at Dr Somervell CSI Medical College Hospital at Karakonam and some are in home treatment.

Hospital authorities refused to comment when contacted but a senior doctor, on condition of anonymity, said none of the infected priests is in a critical condition. “There were a few serious cases and they are recovered now,” he said. Jacob Mathew, secretary of the Church of South India Trust Association and member of the Joint Christian Council, alleged that the retreat was organised ignoring the directions of the government and council.

“The annual retreats of Central Kerala Diocese and Kochi diocese were also scheduled last month. However, they were postponed due to a surge in Covid cases. But CSI South Kerala held the retreat secretly at Munnar without informing the government. As per the government instructions, only 50 people are allowed to a conference. But here all safety guidelines went for a toss,” he alleged.

‘Retreat held adhering to protocol’

Jacob also shared the issue in a Facebook post. Though a group of social workers sent a complaint to Chief Secretary VP Joy a week ago, no action has been taken so far. Rev Dharmaraj refused to comment as he was in home quarantine. TT Praveen, secretary of the South Kerala Diocese of CSI, said the infection was not spread from the retreat. He said some vested interests are indulging in a negative campaign against the church.

“The retreat was organised adhering to protocol and we had got permission from the government. It is true that some of the priests have tested positive. But it has been proven that the infection was not spread from that conference. Two priests died due to the various diseases they had been suffering from. It is evident that it is the propaganda by anti-CSI lobbies to defame the Church. The church is going to hold polls in the coming months,” he said.

A priest who attended the retreat and subsequently tested positive said at least 30 priests had been hospitalised.  “A few others have recovered and discharged,” he told TNIE. Thiruvananthapuram DMO KS Shinu said the health department could not take action as the conference was held last month, and that too in Idukki.

“We can’t do anything. It was held last month. The action had to be recommended and taken at that time if any violation was reported. Moreover, I can’t take action as the retreat was not held under my jurisdiction,” he said.

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