DIMAPUR, MAY 18: “Pained to observe the absence of Pastors/Reverends at the burial site, Sema volunteered to pray before the burial took place and consoled the family members of the deceased,” the DIPR had reported of the Nodal Officer for Dimapur District to manage COVID-19 activities Y Kikheto Sema’s visit to the new Naga Cemetery on May 16.
Since then, Nagaland’s Church and Church Workers have become soft targets for criticisms ~ justified or otherwise. Criticism of the Church in the State is not a new thing, but the latest wave carries a different kind of sting because it involves death and dead bodies.
“What happened that day was very unfortunate,” the General Secretary of Nagaland Baptist Church Council, Rev Dr Zelhou Keyho, told Nagaland Page on Tuesday.
According to him, there is no difference of opinion about what took place that day. “I hope we do better. It was well taken. At the same time, not all Pastors can be there”, he said.
Keyho said that he was aware of 2 or 3 COVID deaths where Pastors were there to conduct the funeral rites. “I am told that the Chaplain of District Hospital Dimapur was away for another programme at the time. So he could not make it to the funeral”, he shared.
The Reverend also pointed that there are some people who do not belong to the Church. “I feel that one incident is not the whole”, he said.
When a COVID patient dies, the family either takes care of the burial/cremation after obtaining No Objection Certificate from the village/colony authorities, or surrender the body to the District Task Force to dispose.
“We don’t know the situation (that day). If the Pastor concerned was contacted and didn’t go to the funeral, then that is very rude. We are encouraging our Pastors and Churches to be sensitive. Whatever the situation, as shepherds of the flock, we have to tend to our members. At the same time, it has taken us by surprise actually. We understand that this is a situation where a small thing can also be blown out of proportion”, Keyho said.
On concerns raised about movement of Pastors to conduct funerals during lockdown, he said that the guidelines have clearly defined exemption for such instances. “Here in Kohima, we have talked with the administration and they said that as long as we carry the wedding or funeral programmes with us, we are free to move around”, he said.
Also, the Health Department has “again and again” assured that the dead bodies that have succumbed to COVID-19 are safe for burial after completing all procedures, Keyho said.
Nagaland Page also spoke to Fr. Victor Renthungo, Secretary of Kohima Diocese, who also felt that “making a blanket statement doesn’t sound good”.
“The other side of the story is that if we are informed, we have never said no. We try to be there when informed, even in the case of gruesome death”, he said.
The Father also pointed out that each Church member belongs to different denominations. “And they would want to bury in certain norms. The Catholic Church is always there when informed”, he asserted.
“We have passed instructions to the Churches about how to deal with it (COVID deaths)”, he added.
Imnatoshi Longkumer, an Associate Pastor at Dimapur Ao Baptist Arogo, said that it is practically difficult for the Church to know “who died when”, unless informed. “Even our Church members”, he added.
“From a Baptist perspective, we do burial for our Church members. We don’t know who was buried that day. Secondly, if we receive any request from people of any religion, we are also willing to give them burial”, he said.
According to him, the recent incident has “given us the challenge to go beyond our jurisdiction”.
He also raised the issue of movement during lockdown, reasoning that funeral programmes might not be available as in most COVID deaths, the bodies are buried/disposed quickly. He felt that there is a need for clearer instruction in the SOP as regards funeral and movement of Church workers.