Faiths mourn Covid’s one million dead

Image credit: Mstyslav Chernov CCLicense

By Lianne Kolirin, 29 September 2020

Religious leaders have paid their respects to the million victims of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Almost half of the death toll is attributed to the United States, Brazil and India combined, according to the official data from Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore.

Ten months after the first cluster of cases were detected in the Chinese city of Wuhan, news broke this morning UK time of the death toll.

The million milestone, described as “mind-numbing” by António Guterres, secretary-general of the United Nations, is likely to be much higher: testing rates remain low in many countries.

Margaret Harris of the World Health Organisation told a UN briefing in Geneva: “So many people have lost so many people and haven’t had the chance to say goodbye. Many people who died, died alone . . . It’s a terribly difficult and lonely death.”

Religious and community leaders expressed their sadness at the news and urged followers to act with caution and responsibility in the coming months as the virus continues to spread.

The Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby said on twitter:

“Behind the figure of one million people who have died from coronavirus are a million mothers and fathers; daughters and sons; grandparents and siblings; friends, colleagues and neighbours. One million precious, beloved, irreplaceable children of God. Today is a dark and difficult day, for our nation and our world. It’s a day to grieve with those who grieve. To pray for those who suffer. To cry out to God in prayer for an end to this pandemic. But it’s also a day to remember that it was into a troubled, fearful and hurting world that God sent His only Son. To remember that Jesus Christ came not just to walk with us, but to lay down His life for us. There is no agony, trauma or grief that we are left to face alone.”

Harun Khan, secretary-general of the Muslim Council of Britain, told the Religion Media Centre: “This bleak milestone serves as a pertinent reminder that this is not over and that although we are no longer in a lockdown, we cannot return to our normal lives. It is more important than ever for each and every one of us adhere to the government guidelines on social distancing and do whatever we can to keep ourselves and our loved ones safe.

“The past six months have not been easy for anyone, but we must continue to channel this strength and resolve and persevere through the next few months to prevent further deaths.

“We pray to God to have mercy on all those who have lost their lives to Covid-19, to heal all those who are sick and to protect our communities from further loss.”

Expressing his sadness on Twitter, Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis wrote: “As the world mourns one million precious lives lost to the coronavirus pandemic, it is impossible for us to conceive of the grief of so many devastated families.

“Let us all resolve to honour their memory by taking extra care and responsibility for controlling the spread of the virus, so that others will be spared the same pain and loss.”

Gurpreet Singh Johal from the Sikh Council UK said: “Each and every individual life that has been lost to coronavirus is a personal tragedy. 
The one million milestone has been reached and our fear is there will be many more who will die as the coronavirus continues to spread across the globe. It is has never been so important that we all come together as a human family to care for each other to beat this virus.” 

Reuters news agency reports that the high numbers of fatalities has impacted on religious rituals surrounding death all over the world. In Israel, Muslims are not allowed to wash the bodies of deceased and must use plastic bags instead of cloth shrouds. Jewish mourners, both in Israel and elsewhere around the world, cannot observe the seven-day shiva mourning period where friends and family visit the bereaved in their homes.

In Italy, Roman Catholics have been buried without funerals or a blessing from a priest, while in Iraq former militiamen dropped their guns to dig graves at a specially created cemetery and learnt how to conduct both Christian and Muslim burials, Reuters reported.

Earlier today, the House of Bishops met online to discuss the Church of England’s response to the pandemic, lessons learnt in recent months and priorities for the future.

A statement after the meeting read: “As well as underlining the importance of worship in church buildings for the health and soul of the nation, the house reviewed how the church could go on learning from the many positive developments of recent months, such as the growth of online worshipping communities, the huge success of the church’s digital engagement and the church’s enhanced outreach via digital media to younger people and BAME communities.”

(updated 1 October 2020)