, 26 March, 2020 / 12:02 AM
With Italy ranked the world’s worst-hit country by COVID-19, the clergy, religious and seminarians who are natives of Ghana and based in the country’s capital, Rome have, in an interview with ACI Africa correspondent, said that they are taking seriously directives from the Italian government as precautionary measures to stay safe.
At least 7,500 people have died from COVID-19 in Italy as the number of confirmed cases increased to 74,386 by Wednesday, March 25, according to a report.
“We shall continue to take all the precautionary measures given as a personal responsibility to stay safe,” the President of the Ghana Catholic Ecclesiastical Union (GCEU), which brings together the clergy, religious men and women, and seminarians studying in Rome, Fr. MacHenry Ayamga told ACI Africa in an interview March 23.
“We all need to take the decrees of the Italian and the Vatican states seriously,” Fr. Ayamga emphasized and added, “If there is any urgent and serious need, we must recourse to the authorities of our various colleges and religious houses.”
The Canon Law student urged his compatriots in Rome to keep checking on each other saying, “We are encouraged to check on one another from time to time via phone or mail and be in touch with our platform for updates.”
He urged Ghanaians in Italy to look up to God for salvation, urging them to adhere to all the safety measures that have been put in place to contain further spread of the virus that is killing hundreds of residents of Italy daily.
“We are a people of prayer … It is the time to pray more than ever. We must remember to pray for ourselves, our families and friends, our country Ghana, Italy and for the rest of the world,” Fr Ayamga implored.
He went on to reassure Catholics across the globe that the members of the Rome-based union of Ghanaian clerics, religious, and seminarians under GCEU are keeping “safe and well.”
“We want to communicate to all Catholics that we, your priests, religious and seminarians living in Rome are safe and well. We are very close to you in prayer and we assure you of our continued prayers, as well as for ourselves, that God will continue to protect and save us,” the Union’s president said.
He added, “We are in dire need of your prayers and it is always refreshing and comforting to know you love us and that we are not alone here.”
GCEU dates back to the early 1980’s when a number of Ghanaian priests and religious were sent to Rome by their Bishops and Religious Superiors for further studies and ongoing formation.
The union members gather to fraternize, pray, share ideas and encourage each other as they prepare themselves to serve the local Church in Ghana after their studies.
Records seen by ACI Africa show a 65-member union comprising 47 priests, nine religious women, one religious brother and 8 seminarians.
Divulging on how the pandemic and the lockdown had affected the students’ lives in Rome, Fr. Ayamga said it was scary not being able to move freely.
“We cannot go out of our colleges except for serious and urgent needs upon permission of our authorities. We are always frightened and scared with the news we hear every day. Nothing is certain. You wake up each day not knowing what will happen next. It is depressing for some of us because no one is in control and everyone is vulnerable,” he lamented.
He added, “We are sad to hear people are dying every day. Today (March 23) alone over 600 have lost their lives to COVID-19, and we know and we hear the hospitals are full, the doctors and health personnel are overwhelmed.”
According to the Priest, the daily death toll and the increasing number of those infected “simply reveals how helpless we all are before this virus.”
“The streets are deserted, many shops closed and there is unusual silence in the ever busy, crowded and noisy Rome. That alone is terrifying enough,” he said and added, “the good news is, all of us from Ghana are safe as far as our latest contacts amongst us confirm,”
The students, he said, were now confined to participating in online lectures following the closure of physical classrooms. This, the priest noted, was unfavorable for students who needed libraries and those who needed to submit their thesis by the end of June.
As for Sr. Hagar Zuuri of the Sisters of Mary Immaculate (SMI) from Ghana’s Wa Diocese studying Religious Sciences, the situation of COVID-19 in Rome is a scary experience that has taken a turn that the students least expected.
“We are very scared about the whole issue because we didn’t see it getting to that extent. Doctors are finding it difficult to control, because each day the rate of new cases keeps on increasing and many have lost their lives,” said Sr. Hagar.
Sharing his experience, Fr. Michael Quaicoe, Doctoral Student of Canon Law from the Archdiocese of Cape Coast, explained to ACI Africa that when caught in the pandemic, he felt “a sense of powerlessness.”
“As a Ghanaian priest studying in Rome, my feeling about this pandemic, apart from the nostalgia of being away from home, seems similar to everyone residing here: a sense of powerlessness in the wake of an invisible yet ferociously deadly force.”
The Priest told his fellow Ghanaians in Rome to avoid instances of infections, “knowing that regardless of what one might wish to believe, our prior experiences must teach us that we will not be a priority in receiving care and treatment.”
He called on Bishops in the West African country who have students in Rome to show solidarity and fraternal charity with their religious who he explained were caught up in a dire situation.
On his part, Fr. David Selasie Agah, a member of the Ghana Province of the Society for Divine Word (SVD) studying Clinical Psychology at the Pontifical Gregorian University, expressed concern that “People you trust so much as confreres in your community have suddenly become suspects because you cannot tell who is infected, hence we have become strangers to each other.”
ACI Africa was officially inaugurated on August 17, 2019 as a continental Catholic news agency at the service of the Church in Africa. Headquartered in Kenya’s capital, Nairobi, this media apostolate will strive to facilitate the telling of Africa’s story by providing media coverage of Catholic events on the African continent, giving visibility to the activities of the Church across Africa where statistics show significant growth in numbers and the continent gradually becoming the axis of Catholicism. This is expected to contribute to an awareness of and appreciation for the significant role of the Church in Africa and over time, the realization of a realistic image of Africa that often receives negative media framing.
Father Don Bosco Onyalla
Editor-in-Chief, ACI Africa