Liberia remembers deceased Ebola Health workers

Fr Garry Jenkins is one of several SMA priests living in Liberia and who are ‘in the thick’ of the Ebola Virus scene. Below we reproduce part of an email he sent to friends and colleagues. We received it through an SMA working in South Africa.

I am just sending out some last minute Parish Newsletters before Christmas changes into New Year; I thought you might like to receive a copy. It is Christmas Eve and very hot, as I compose this in the Palaver Hut.

As you may be aware, conditions in our sub-region continue to improve. In an unofficial report which I received dated 9th December, ‘confirmed‘ cases of Ebola in the various Treatment Centres were down to 71 patients for the entire country; new admissions for the several days before the report, were 35 patients.

According to the Medical experts, our people are cooperating well with the advice they have been receiving. However, we continue to pray for the people of Sierra Leone, who are suffering as the transmission rate of the virus is still intense.

At Mass on Sunday, we prayed in a very special way for a minority of people in Guinea who are trying to hinder the work of MSF. Some people are not only refusing to cooperate but drove MSF out of a Town last week and demolished the Treatment Centre which was under construction. They obviously think that they know better than the Disease Control Centre.

On the afternoon of the Third Sunday of Advent, we congregated in the Sacred Heart Cathedral in Monrovia for a ‘Thanksgiving Memorial Mass’ for the deceased Health Care Workers of the Archdiocese who died caring for Ebola victims.

Between August 2, 2014 – August 25, 2014, nine of the staff of the Catholic Hospital succumbed to the virus including the Hospital Director, Rev Bro. Patrick Nshamdze, Rev Sr. Chantal Mutwameme, Nurses’ Supervisor, Ms. Laurene Togba, Nursing Supervisor and Bro. George Combay, the Pharmacist. In addition, three other Health Workers died working in other Archdiocesan Health Centres.

The President of Liberia, Madam Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, was present during the Mass. Archbishop Zeigler, was the main celebrant assisted by Archbishop Miroslaw, the Apostolic Nuncio and Bishop Andrew; and there were priests and religious of the Archdiocese. Many nurses and other health workers also participated in the solemn liturgy.

Personally, I found the experience very moving especially when relatives came forward to light candles in front of pictures of their loved ones during the time of the Prayers of the Faithful.

As I write, the egrets are back in our Compound – in fact there is one staring at us now, perched on the back gate. I don’t know whether they fly from Morocco or Spain, but they are always a welcome sight and seem to know when our heavy Wet Rains  are over!

Even though the Archbishop informed me that the annual Priests’ Christmas lunch  is cancelled, presumably because of the ‘situation’ and although there will be no Midnight Mass here in Bomi because of the ‘Curfew’, we still more or less agreed, to ‘celebrate’ Christmas in the Parish – last minute decisions…

We started practising the annual Christmas Nativity Play, less than two weeks ago; but the children are regular for rehearsals and they are ‘catching-up’ on learning their lines.

However, we still observe strictly a ‘no touch’  protocol. So to prevent children from being too close together, it was agreed that on the Feast of St Stephen we should cook the traditional rice and dried fish just for the Christmas ‘Players’.

But when I looked around the Palaver Hut last Sunday morning , at the seventy-five small children, it was difficult to explain to innocent children a rather ‘discriminative’ policy. So we will have more ‘carers’ in attendance, so they can all come to enjoy the day!  

Fr Henry left yesterday for the Belle District where he will stay for two weeks. He will celebrate Christmas in Baloma. Then along with Moses and David, two of our students, he will be visiting some of our Outstations. They will be walking for at least sixteen hours; thankfully they will be protected from the hot sun by the shade of the deep Forest. They will climb up the mountain to Toikoi for our annual celebration when people from other Outstations meet together to seek God’s blessings for the New Year.

Henry will return with news of our students that we eagerly await. Once we receive notification of a date for the reopening of Schools, they will return to the Mission. In the meantime, they are helping their parents to harvest the rice and they are possibly hunting. There is a Government ban on the sale of ‘bush-meat’ because of the risk of animals being infected by the Fruit Bat which is the natural host of the Ebola Virus. I have just reminded Father Henry of the ‘problem’ he might encounter, so he reassured me by saying that he will restrict his diet to ‘chicken’.

My young colleague, Fr George, will also have a busy Christmas-tide. He left this morning for the Leper Colony at Massatine, as well as a long drive to the Seaside Town of Robertsport, where after the Christmas Mass, the friendly Fanti Fisherman, will feast Maurice, the Driver and Fr George, to Rice and tasty Pepper Soup with fresh Crab.

After the 7:00 Morning Mass about twenty-five women and men helped to prepare the Church for this evening and our few remaining students decorated the Church as is the custom, with Palm Thatch.

As I sign off there is music emanating from our Church – the Children are having their last practice – it puts me in the ‘Christmas spirit.’                                                                                       

Wishing you a blessed Christmas and a happy New Year.

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