For Liberia's faithful, only Christ offers hope amid Ebola panic
Monrovia, Liberia, Oct 9, 2014 / 11:51 am (CNA/EWTN News) - With hundreds dead from the devastating Ebola virus and no signs of relief on the horizon, one archbishop in Liberia says the people’s faith is what helps them maintain hope.
“The people of Liberia are very religious people who believe and hope in eternal life,” Archbishop Miroslaw Adamczyk, the Holy See’s apostolic nuncio to Liberia, said Sept. 30.
“Liberians have suffered much and continue to have a difficult life, but they also have great patience – and they know how to be happy and enjoy life. I hope that this night of Ebola will pass away as soon as possible, and that we can fully enjoy life again.”
“Ultimately, our hope is always the same: we hope in Jesus Christ who has overcome suffering and death. We are sure that He will not disappoint us,” the archbishop told the Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need Sept. 30.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report over 3,900 Ebola cases and 2,210 confirmed deaths from Ebola in Liberia since March. A Liberian man who traveled to the U.S. died of Ebola infection in Dallas, Texas Oct. 8.
“It is not a good moment for Liberia, because the Ebola virus disease doesn’t show any signs of slowing down,” Archbishop Adamczyk said, adding that Liberia faces “a time of fear and panic.”
At least 166 medical workers have been infected in Liberia, with at least 80 dying. Among them are several Catholic missionaries and hospital workers: Brother Patrick Nshamdze of Cameroon, Father Miguel Pajares of Spain, Brother George Combey of Ghana and Liberian native Sister Chantal Pascaline.
“These good missionaries paid the highest price for their service to the Church and the people of Liberia,” said the archbishop.
The three Brothers of St. John of God and one Sister of the Immaculate Conception died after contracting the disease in their work at St. Joseph’s Catholic Hospital in the Liberian capital of Monrovia.
“The clergy and faithful of Liberia deeply mourn the passing of these good brothers and the sister,” the archbishop said, declaring that their deaths “will always bear fruit in the future.”
He praised the nine lay persons, nurses and social workers, who also died of Ebola after working at the hospital.
Two other religious sisters who worked at the hospital survived an Ebola infection and are now doing well, Archbishop Adamczyk said.
However, the hospital has closed, like other health facilities.
The archbishop said that the Liberian healthcare system “doesn’t function well under ordinary circumstances” and cannot effectively respond to an epidemic.
“There are lot of problems with organization and coordination. How can we cope if hospitals are closed?” he said.
“Even apart from Ebola, the population suffers from a whole range of illnesses and health problems. Now everyone gets very scared if they get a fever or a headache.”
Some Liberian medical workers have abandoned their hospitals for fear of the disease, while others continue to work despite not being paid for months, a team from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found in four counties of Liberia. Basic supplies like surgical gloves are “depleted or absent” and hand washing stations are primitive, if they are present at all, says the team’s Oct. 7 report.
Many clinics lack reliable communication and electricity, while many clinic workers are not trained to deal with patients infected with Ebola.
Archbishop Adamczyk said that the Church is not able to care directly for the sick.
“We lack the necessary supplies and means of protection to get involved on that front.”
He said he sees no immediate prospects for improvement in the country. The disease has had a “huge impact” on the country’s economy, with many people losing their livelihoods because their workplaces are closed.
“Prices are going up and the people have a very hard time. There are no basic services. Hospitals and all schools are closed. The Ebola epidemic is liable to cause economic crises and trigger social unrest.”
Archbishop Adamczyk said the Church is trying to raise awareness about the disease and how to avoid and prevent it. Church workers are distributing pamphlets and talking about the disease at Sunday Mass.
“Since the beginning of August, containers with a solution of water and chlorine for washing hands have been installed in public spaces as well, in front of many private homes, and at the entrance of every church,” he said. “The faithful avoid physical contact – for example there is no Sign of Peace and no shaking hands.”
The bodies of those who die from Ebola are buried “immediately” to prevent the spread of the disease.
The archbishop said that the Church tries to explain to the families how to “properly honor the memory of our departed brothers and sisters in church and in our prayers.”