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Kerala: Over 100 Christian priests test positive for coronavirus, two die after annual retreat gathering in Munnar

The annual retreat, a conference of priests and community members, was held at the CSI Christ Church in Munnar from April 13 to 17 amid the second wave of coronavirus pandemic.

More than 100 priests of the Church of South India (CSI) tested positive for Chinese coronavirus after attending a retreat in Munnar last month. Of these, two have lost their lives and five are in serious condition. Amongst those who are infected are CSI moderator and bishop of South Kerala diocese Rev A Dharmaraj Rasalam. He is currently quarantining at home. As reported by TNIE, the COVID protocols were broken at the retreat.

The annual retreat, a conference of priests and community members, was held at the CSI Christ Church in Munnar from April 13 to 17 amid the second wave of coronavirus pandemic. As many as 350 priests from various churches had attended the congregation. Quoting sources, TNIE reported that despite repeated requests to postpone the meet, the organisers went ahead with the same. Further, priests were warned of disciplinary action if they failed to attend the event.

The priests had travelled to Munnar from LMS Church in Thiruvananthapuram in a bus. Rev Bijumon, 52, the vicar of CSI church, Kazhukode, near Vattappara passed away due to COVID last Thursday and Rev Shine B Raj, 43, the vicar of CSI church, Punnakkamugal, near Thirumala, lost his battle to COVID on Tuesday. Many infected priests are currently undergoing treatment at Dr Somervell CSI Medical College Hospital at Karakonam while some are home quarantined.

As per the report, Jacob Mathew, secretary of Church of South India Trust Association and member of the Joint Christian Council, alleged that the directions of the government and council were ignored for organising the retreat. Annual retreats of Central Kerala diocese and Kochi diocese were also postponed due to increase in COVID cases. But the CSI South Kerala held the retreat without informing state government, he alleged.

The CSI, however, is refuting the allegations. T T Praveen, secretary of South Kerala diocese of CSI, claimed that the infection was not spread from retreat and blamed ‘vested interest’ for spreading ‘negative campaign’. He claimed that the retreat was organised as per COVID protocol and also had state government permission. While he admitted that some priests had tested positive for COVID, he maintained that the infection did not spread from the retreat. He claimed that the two priests died because of other illness they were suffering from.

However, one priest, who attended the retreat and subsequently tested positive for COVID, said that at least 30 priests had been hospitalised. No action has been taken against the organisers of the retreat as it was already held last month.

Kerala is currently second worst affected state in terms of total coronavirus cases. Over 17 lakh people have tested positive for COVID in Kerala, of which 3.57 lakh are active cases.

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