Priest in Amazon sees Zoom wakes as way to comfort suffering

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Mortuary workers wearing protective gear are seen preparing the casket of a victim at a funeral home in Segovia, Spain, April 23, 2020, during the COVID-19 pandemic. CNS photo/Susana Vera, Reuters

SAO PAULO (CNS) — When a family friend died in Spain, which was on lockdown because of COVID-19, Spanish Father Luis Miguel Modino celebrated the wake and connected family members using Zoom.

But Father Modino lives in Manaus, Brazil.

He told Catholic News Service that 20 people, quarantined in six different locations throughout Gijon, Spain, connected to the Mass.

“The woman who died was a friend of the family, so I offered them (relatives) the possibility of saying their goodbyes now, instead of waiting for weeks until the restrictions measures are lifted,” Father Modino told CNS in mid-May.

He said at the time the family friend died, Spain was allowing only three family members to accompany the body to the cemetery. In mid-May, the Spanish government had plans to increase that number to 10, but a funeral Mass inside a church with many people was still prohibited.

“It was a celebration in which everyone had the opportunity to pray; where there was the possibility to see, to participate, to thank God for the life of someone who left and together pray to the God of mercy to receive her by his side,” he added.

He said he sees videoconferencing as a new opportunity to render comfort, which “should always be one of the fundamental missions of all ordained ministers.”

“It is a temporary solution for these trying times,” he said, noting that the deceased woman’s daughter and son thanked him.

“I think sharing their memories brought them comfort,” he added.

The priest said he sees this type of “goodbye” as a real possibility for the Amazon region, since, according to the latest worldwide reports, the pandemic is likely to last a while.

“Not being able to say goodbye to a loved one holds the same sentiment as if someone had disappeared in a river and the body had not been recovered. There are no goodbyes,” he said, trying to explain the feeling of people quarantined.

“I think it (video wake) could bring comfort at this very distressful time,” he said, adding that he has discussed the possibility with a few other priests at the archdiocese. “The forms are secondary, but we must not forget that everything that helps to comfort suffering, whether in the body or in the soul, is of God.”

In early May, 67 bishops and priests from the Amazon region published an open letter, asking for more attention from federal and state governments as well as state and federal legislation for the disease in the region.

“The death rate is one of the highest in the country, and society is already witnessing the collapse of health systems in major cities, such as Manaus and Belem. The statistics provided by the media do not correspond to reality. The testing is insufficient to know the real expansion of the virus,” said the letter.

Retired Bishop Erwin Krautler, who headed the Territorial Prelature of Xingu in the state of Para for more than 30 years, said there is a great fear of the widespread contamination of the indigenous populations in the area.

“We ‘whites’ take viruses to villages, and they do not have antibodies that we have. They will be victims on a large scale if the coronavirus gets there. There is little care with the most vulnerable communities, especially the isolated ones, and no country has as many isolated peoples as in Brazil, specifically in the Amazon,” he told journalists.

Father Modino, who works as a communications officer at the Pan-Amazonian Church Network, said as of May 13, in the nine countries that make up the Amazon region, there were more than 54,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and more than 5,300 deaths — just in the Amazon sections of those countries.

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