100 priests test Covid-19 positive, 2 die after church event in Kerala’s Munnar

Church insiders said all norms were flouted during the event held from April 13 to 17 and more than 350 priests and others participated in the annual retreat organised by the CSI Christ Church in Munnar. They said some young priests had questioned the timing of the meet but they were threatened with disciplinary action by church authorities.
Munnar Town

The Kerala police have started investigating a religious retreat conducted in hill station Munnar in Idukki district last month that flouted pandemic norms, and which seems to have resulted in the death of two priests last week from Covid-19 with around a 100 more participants testing positive.

Among the infected are Church of South India (CSI) South Kerala Bishop Father Dharmaraj Rasalam. Two priests who attended the retreat, Father Bijumon (52) and Rev Shine B Raj (43) died last week after contracting Covid-19. CSI officials declined comment but reformist groups in the church confirmed it.

Chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan has termed the incident “unfortunate” and said he has directed district authorities to conduction an investigation. “When situation is grave such an event should not have taken place.”

The retreat was held between April 13-17, a period when Kerala was seeing an average cases with the test positivity rate of 20 per cent. It was also held at a time when Covid-19 restrictions were in place. The CSI retreat is the latest religious event to hit the headlines for recklessness during the pandemic.

Last year, at the beginning of the first wave, a congregation of the Tablighi Jamaat in New Delhi caused a spike in cases. Last month’s massive congregation for the Kumbh Mela has contributed to an increase in cases in many northern and central Indian states.

Reports in local media claim that more than 40 priests are undergoing treatment at the CSI Medical College Hospital in Karakonam. When contacted hospital authorities declined comment. Hectic efforts are on to cover up the incident.

“Permission was not sought from district authorities for the event. We are inquiring into the incident . We will take strict action against the resort and organisers of the event,” said Idukki district collector H Dinesh.

Church insiders said some young priests questioned the timing of the meet but they were threatened with disciplinary action by church authorities.

“The retreat was held without permission. Even if permission was there, more than 50 people are not allowed in the present pandemic situation…,” said Jacob Mathew., a member of the Joint Christian Council, a reformist group.

Kerala on Wednesday logged over 41,000 coronavirus cases.

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