The Catholic Church and Covid-19 in Kyrgyzstan:
Searching to share the Light of Christ in our time
The ongoing crisis unleashed by the appearance and spread of Corona virus has seriously affected the society in Kyrgyzstan. Numbers of those infected remain largely unknown, since a significant portion of the infected population has not been tested for this disease—despite the fact that many people have experienced various degrees of severity in symptoms.
Official statistics are inadequate in illustrating the scope of the spread of this disease. Narrative description of the situation is best capable of offering some insight into the rather shocking incidence of illness by such a significant percent of people. As elsewhere, the severity of the economic and social impact of this dynamic is still not fathomable.
The initial phase after the appearance of Covid-19 in mid-March led to closure of almost all social, academic, religious and other facilities and a stringent ban on gatherings. Bishkek and several other cities of the country were in strict lockdown for almost two months. Citizens were allowed to leave their places of residences only for shopping or pharmaceutical needs within a close range (1.5 kilometers)—and even the purpose and route of these visits had to be detailed in written form. Uniformed police verified documents of those on the street. This lockdown led to, among other things, social isolation and to economic hardship by a considerable portion of the country’s population.
Towards the end of May, many business and social facilities were permitted to reopen. The Church began to celebrate Mass again with people. Strict rules accompanied the reopening of churches and other places of worship that included the requirement that all visitors wear masks and have their temperature measured, as well as the necessity of following various sanitizing norms and ensuring social distancing. Unfortunately, measures to avoid the spread of disease in other places where people regularly gathered were not enforced with equal vigilance. As a result, increasingly large numbers of people throughout the city began to become ill. During the first peak (throughout most of the month of July), long lines of people seeking medical assistance could be seen at various places throughout the city where the government had set up temporary field hospitals, or “statzianary.” Stories shared by parishioners and neighbors attest to the swift dissemination of the epidemic, with those who are ill most often remaining home. Pneumonia and other respiratory complications are usually accompanied by persistent high temperature. Health officials, unable to cope with the rapid deterioration of the situation, worked with local and state government to create field hospitals. Other countries began to send ventilators and other medical supplies. Doctors arrived from Russia.
The local Catholic Church continues to focus on its fundamental responsibility in attempting to provide both spiritual/pastoral support to those grappling with this unprecedented situation and to offer humanitarian support to the extent to which this is feasible considering our small size and limited resources. The Society of Jesus and other benefactors from abroad have displayed impressive generosity in their willingness to provide additional resources in this endeavor to help people in need at this time.
This humanitarian assistance takes place on two levels:
On the ground level: Priests and Sisters provide support to families and individuals in need. Some of these families are parishioners and neighbors. Others have been brought to our attention by the Ministry of Social Assistance (most of these are Muslim families with children, some with special needs). In the capital, the Church has continued to assist a home for single mothers and their children as well as a center for alcoholics and drug addicts in recovery.
At the level of assistance to institutions, medical staff and experts: As well, the Church has supplied field hospitals in Bishkek and in other areas of the country with basic medical and other supplies (e.g., medical costumes, examining tables, disinfecting materials, ultra violet ray lamps for disinfecting, gloves, etc.) Some people have received necessary medications as well.
Our children’s camp facilities at Lake Issyk-Kul have been made available for recuperation and recreation by doctors and youth and other volunteers along with some of their families.
As always, the Church faces in such difficult circumstances challenge as well as opportunity. The tiny Catholic community in Kyrgyzstan has learned from previous experiences (such as the episode involving the violent outburst of inter-ethnic conflict in 2010) that its presence here enables it to serve in the role of “bridge” between the unmet, critical needs resulting from human tragedy and those who are willing to generously share resources to assuage some of the dire needs of concrete people suffering. In doing so, the Church is afforded the opportunity to fulfill its call to authentic Christian charity while providing witness—even if in a modest scale—to the identity and commitment of the Church of Jesus Christ in this particular place and event.
We appreciate your support and your prayers for our Church and for the people of Kyrgyzstan very much. At this time, we especially ask prayers for those who are ill and for those who care from them.