Twelve Jesuits from five Indian Provinces share their Corona experience and what the dreaded disease taught them.

Clifford Sequeira, SJ

A nerve-wracking near-death experience

By Clifford Sequeira, SJ

I tested positive for Covid-19 on 07 September 2020, and was hospitalized. A few days later I was additionally diagnosed with leptospirosis (rat fever) which leads to liver damage. My oxygen levels dropped suddenly and I was rushed to the ICU and put on high flow nasal oxygen. My lungs were severely damaged and I was told to be ready to go on the ventilator if things didn’t improve within 24 hours. I had only a 50 per cent chance of surviving. 

I gathered all my faith and tried to think positive. It was a nerve wracking near-death experience.

What I learnt from this experience is that prayers do work and God does answer our fervent prayers. Many well-wishers and my Jesuit community ensured I got the best treatment, and the nurses in ICU took tremendous care. I experienced an overwhelming abundance of love, care, concern, kindness, and generosity.

I truly believe that God has a purpose in keeping me alive.  This experience taught me to value life, to cherish and appreciate whatever we have, to be content. I have become more sensitive and compassionate towards those who suffer.  I praise God for his mercy.

Clifford Sequeira, SJ (KAR) is the Principal of St. Aloysius PU College, Mangalore. He is a former Principal of St. Joseph’s European School, Bangalore.

Deepak George, SJ

A powerful reminder to find meaning and joy in everything

By Deepak George, SJ

Whatever symptoms I had I dismissed them as the usual ‘cold and cough’. But they became worse and the test revealed I was Corona positive. Three things happened to me.

First, my ‘health ego’ was shattered.  I always believed that I am a strong and sturdy guy immune to viral and bacterial attacks. But now here I am with a positive antigen and RTPCR test results! For the first time I realized that my physical fitness and wellbeing could change in no time! 

Secondly, one evening as I was getting ready for a bath I suddenly experienced something strange. I couldn’t breathe properly for a minute!  I was frightened and anxious and I was about to faint and fall. But when I changed my attention from that fear everything became normal. I think it was nothing but an intense and morbid fit of fear and anxiety, which continued for a week. I realized I should take life in its stride and never give in to panic. We should divert our attention to something better and beautiful. We should remind ourselves that nothing really bad will happen to us without the knowledge and will of a Superior Power who plans everything for our ultimate good.     

Thirdly, as soon as I tested positive a strange and uneasy thought started haunting me. Am I really ready and willing to die? I thought to myself that I should have gone for a confession and prepared myself before going for the test.  "Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour". (Mathew 25: 13). I came out of my post Covid 19 quarantine almost like the way I come out of my annual eight-day retreat. All things considered, now  I  see this experience as a powerful reminder to find joy and meaning in everything, in the most ordinary and mundane and even the most painful realities of everyday life. This has made me realize that I should make use of every opportunity to reinvent myself and to rejuvenate myself in mind, body and spirit.

After all, it is in the simple, ordinary experiences one has to find meaning, joy and God.  There is no other way. 

Deepak George, SJ (KER) is the Province Development Director for the Jesuit Province of Kerala.

John Wilson, SJ

Gratitude and hope

By John Wilson, SJ

I was admitted with high fever and diagnosed corona positive. My immediate reaction was one of fear and uncertainty. I entered into a denial mode, thinking that the result was not correct. It could be a false positive. But reality sank in with more tests. Slowly I came to accept that I was affected by Corona and I needed treatment.

I am grateful to the Society of Jesus for providing me the best of care and treatment at the earliest. I am grateful to the frontline workers like Doctors and nurses, who played a vital role in my recovery. In spite of serious risks to their own health, using the PPE kit, they reached out joyfully and instilled hope in me. I was fortunate to be treated by such kind and compassionate people. Their mission and commitment made me reflect how I lead my life amidst fear and uncertainties. If they could risk their life for me, why can’t I reach out to the people who are in need and live amidst uncertainties?

Though corona weakened my body, I have come out stronger as a person. I feel that I can face uncertainties with hope and instill hope and faith in others. I am grateful to God for this experience. As a corona survivor, I strongly feel that the corona disease itself is not as dangerous as the feeling of fear, denial, loneliness and uncertainty. If the families and friends of the infected persons reassure them and support them emotionally, the recovery will be faster and the danger will be lesser.

John Wilson, SJ (MDU) is a professor of Electronics at St. Joseph’s College, Trichy. He is also the Director of St. Joseph’s Empowerment Centre.

Jose Mathew, SJ

Reminded of the red robe

By Jose Mathew, SJ

Being the founder and the director of THARA – a home for children found on streets – I have been living with children for nineteen years. There are about a hundred children here. I had taken all the measures to protect them during this pandemic   and, thank God, so far they are safe. But exactly one year ago, on  07  July 2020, I had mild symptoms  of Covid. Initially  I did not go to the hospital. Later I was admitted in a non-Covid  hospital. As soon as I was declared a Covid positive, I was given a  PPE kit. I was  reminded of the red robe  given to Jesus by Herod before sending him back to Pilate. They asked me to leave and get admitted immediately in a Covid hospital. It was around midnight. All faces turned away from me. No one dared to take me to another hospital –not even my Jesuit companion. In spite of my mental  preparedness I found myself that night physically exhausted and tense. I  felt cornered.   It was my superior, who, in spite of his ill-health, took me and admitted me in another hospital with compassion and understanding. I was in the hospital for five days. Piercing of needles and taking blood continued on all days. One day, at midnight I was terrified to see 15 persons from a joint family with severe Covid symptoms getting admitted. But on other days I was at ease and relaxed and I admired the caring staff. When I was discharged, I was so glad to see all the hundred children at THARA   welcoming me breaking a hundred coconuts. I keep thanking God who healed me.

Jose Mathew SJ (AND) is Director of Tender Home for Anawim Rest and Awakening society (THARA), Secunderabad.

Lancy D’Cruz, SJ

It’s the fear that kills!

By Lancy D’Cruz, SJ

I must state that I had taken much care to protect myself and those in the College (where I work), during the first wave. But with the advent of Holy Week and caution being thrown to the winds, the virus sneaked into our Jesuit community leading to one of the Fathers being quarantined. I suddenly began to believe that the symptoms were setting in. And so, I got myself quarantined in the residence.

Waiting for RT-PCR test was like waiting for an eternity and waiting for the result, was an even longer eternity! The moment when I saw the test result (on WhatsApp) was like falling into a black hole!! I didn’t know whether to laugh or to cry! But I knew one thing…. It’s not the virus; it’s the fear that actually kills!! And that is where I knew I had to be confident… trusting in a God who heals. I listened several times a day to “I am the God who Healeth thee” of Don Moen! And the next thing I knew, I was sharing this hopeand confidence with several others who were suffering!

Seventeen days in home quarantine was a long, long time. It was a deep spiritual experience. It freed me from the anxiety of the constant look at oxygen saturation and the screaming of ambulance sirens. Through the cage of my room, I could reach out to those in need of hope… and courage…..! Not me, but it was Him who reached out through me!

Lancelot D’Cruz, SJ (GUJ) completed his doctoral research in ethnobotany which inspired him to found ‘AadiAusadhi’ to promote the socio-economic development of the VasavaAdivasis and to protect  their traditional knowledge of medicinal plants. He is the coordinator and the founding member of the Gujarat Jesuit Ecology Mission. He is currently the Principal of St. Xavier’s College, Ahmedabad.

Melwin J. Pinto, SJ

The virus exposed us

By Melwin J. Pinto, SJ

Aches and ills have been a part of my life, as I have suffered many infirmities. So Covid 19 never seemed a threat. Given my co-morbidities, everyone considered me vulnerable when I got infected with Covid 19. However, I was quite oblivious to the fact that I may be a victim of the pandemic. I remained cool till the end despite the seriousness of the illness, even while I needed a respirator for over ten days in hospital. 

In all the while I came to terms with a sense of vulnerability, but also developed a spirit of resilience. I attribute my recovery to prayers of all who love me, the grace of God for sure and my never-say-die attitude. They say, we got exposed to the virus but it’s a greater truth that the virus exposed us. While we witnessed the dark side of a self-absorbed paranoia among many, there were several other wonderful human beings who stepped out of their secure comfort zones to reach out to the victims and those affected by the pandemic. In all my pain I felt loved. In turn I felt called to love. God was indeed present, not as a magician driving away the virus, but in the hearts of the Covid 19 warriors.

Melwin J. Pinto, SJ (KAR) was a school principal in Karnataka for 15 years. Later he worked for Vatican Communications in Rome for 5 years. After a brief period as a formator, he is presently the Rector of the St. Aloysius Institutions, Mangalore.

Pushparaj Gnanasamy, SJ

God has given me a second life

By Pushparaj Gnanasamy, SJ

My case must be rare. For reasons I still don’t understand, for two days last November I didn’t go down to the dining hall for meals. Nor did I take my usual medicines. Late in the evening of the second day two Jesuit officials of my community came up to my room and said they were taking me to the hospital for a check-up.

Even after they admitted me in AnnaiVelankanni Hospital, Palyamkottai, I was not fully aware of what was happening and the tests and scans they reportedly did. After eight days I realized I was seriously sick with Covid with lungs damaged nearly 90 per cent. I lived in fear and the future looked uncertain. I realized I needed to have hope. I kept saying, “Lord, I don’t know what’s happening to me. But I know you will always do what is best for me.” The way the doctors and nurses cared for me and the medicines they gave me intravenously must have healed me.

Even after I was discharged from AnnaiVelankanni Hospital, our Rector wanted to be doubly sure that I was fully cured and so sent me to the Apollo Hospital, Madurai. After four days at Apollo I returned to my community, St. Xavier’s but the confinement and care continued. Totally after 52 days  – 14 days in AnnaiVelankanni, 4 days at Apollo, Madurai and 34 days of post-hospital care at St.Xavier’s – I was able to resume normal life.

God has given me a second life and he must have a reason for it. It is my prayer that I should fulfill the purpose for which he rescued me from the jaws of Covid.

Pushparaj Gnanasamy, SJ (MDU) is Secretary, St. Xavier’s College of Education, Palayamkottai. A former college Principal and Secretary, he is the Founder-General Secretary of the Consortium of Christian Minority Educational Institutions.

Raj Irudaya, SJ

She assured me I’ll be healed

By Raj Irudaya, SJ

My Corona experience has been traumatic and at the same time graced. It has been traumatic because of the pain, anxieties, helplessness, flooding of medicines into my body, absence of personal contact with near and dear ones, impending danger to life, seeing under my nose the deaths of those near my bed in the ICU, etc.

But it has also been a graced experience for me as I felt deeply the power of the grace of God. I fall short of adequate words to express the powerful, compassionate and ever-loving hand of God that touched me and healed me and graciously brought me back to life again. While I was fighting for my life during a critical phase of my illness, I deeply experienced the never-failing and ever-abiding presence of God who strengthened and poured hope into me. I felt I was comfortably lying at the feet of the Sacred Heart of Jesus and of our Mother Mary who kept on assuring me that I would be healed. The incessant prayers of my Jesuit companions, relatives and friends must have stormed the heavens pleading for my recovery. The very thought of so many praying for me made me strong.  The limitless care and concern my mother Society showed me is ever green in me. God’s care and love for me became visible and tangible through the doctors, nurses and health workers who attended on me with utmost care and concern. They were like walking angels that God sent. These angels brought home to me the healing grace of God through their dedicated service. May God bless them all abundantly!

Raj Irudaya, SJ (CEN) is the Superior and Professor of Scripture at Arul Kadal, Jesuit Regional Theology Centre, Chennai. He is the Secretary of Indian Theological Association. Formerly he was the Assistancy Delegate for Formation.

Sahayaraj J. Stanley, SJ

A new learning curve

By Sahayaraj J. Stanley, SJ

Daniel O’Leary, in one of his articles, writes, “The cherry tree was asked, “Speak to us of God,” and the cherry tree blossomed!” I was asked, “Speak to us of Covid,” and I blossom thinking of all those who cared for me when I was down with Covid. What I would always cherish is the number of calls and enquiries that my people made. God, in his own loving, compassionate way, reminded me that I am not alone in this life’s long path. It was a moment where the preciousness, as well as the precarious nature of life, was presented to me as a live show!

I cried thinking of all the people whom I had hurt. I thanked the Lord for all the special gifts that he had showered on me. I could see how Grace was lighting up my path through various personalities through their wit and wisdom, loving me all along! It was ‘love’ beckoning to me throughout, and showing that relationships were both a challenge and a promise. Though I felt comforted and consoled, the physical pain, mental agony and the utter loneliness are still lingering in me! Covid was indeed a new learning curve!

Sahayaraj Stanley, SJ (CEN) is the Director of Studies & Ministries at Arul Kadal, Regional Theologate, Chennai. He teaches Moral Theology.

Salvin Augustine, SJ

A new learning curve

By Salvin Augustine, SJ

When I tested covid 19 positive I was the principal of AKJM School, Kanjirapally. Pre-Covid: Although I was afraid of getting infected, I had to meet many people as the principal of the school. We tried to stay home, wear masks in public places, and trying to stay at least six feet away from others. Crazily, I thought that I should not be the first person in the community to be infected, that I shouldn’t be the cause for another person getting infected. But, in spite of all my precautions, the virus won, although I was not its first victim. Covid: As soon as I tested positive, I closed my door and remained confined to my room. My ‘desert experience’ began. I switched off my mobile. I planned to read some books but could not do so in the beginning.  I had severe fever and headache in the first few days. I experienced deep desolation and frustration and I felt lonely. I started praying Psalm 91 and the rosary and spent 45 minutes in meditation. Gradually I became courageous and confident. I felt close to Jesus. Once my fear and sadness vanished and I gained mental strength, I could defeat Covid. I tested negative after 15 days. Post Covid: Even after I tested negative, I was feeling very weak and could not sleep. I realized that the sick bed can be a great teacher. Some of the lessons I learned are: Health is the most important factor in our life. Depend on God for everything. Take maximum steps not to transmit the disease to others. Pray regularly. Anything can happen at any time. Be humble enough to accept God’s plan. I believe that I will never forget my Covid experience and what it taught me.

Salvin Augustine, SJ (KER) is the Director, TUDI (Tribal Unity Development Initiatives) Wayanad, PCF, Province Coordinator for Formation, Administrator and teacher, Sarvodaya Higher Secondary School, Eachome, Wayanad and Former Principal, AKJM Higher Secondary School, Kanjirappally, Kottayam (2015-2021). Recently Published a book, Jesuit Education, in Malayalam by Yatra Publication.

Sunil Macwan, SJ

It has left a transformative imprint

By Sunil Macwan, SJ

The unforgettable experience of testing positive for the dreaded COVID-19 on Easter Sunday, enduring a two-week home quarantine, and, eventually, recovering from the illness has left a transformative imprint on me.

The first week of the home quarantine assailed me with fatigue and fear, leading to a sense of failure. So I decided to request some close friends for prayers. Two of them – an American couple – roped in many others and soon friends and strangers alike in the USA, Sweden, Spain, Australia, and India were praying for me. As a remarkable fruit of their prayers, one morning, I suddenly felt a deep communion with God, regained my hope of defeating the disease, and, above all, found the strength to accept the possibility of succumbing to the pandemic. Intercessory prayers inspired me to say a loving ‘amen’ to God’s will with regard to my health.

Moreover, the prayers of others also led me to pray ardently for friends and acquaintances seriously affected by the pandemic. Consequently, when someone recovered, I screamed a joyful ‘Praise the Lord’, and when someone passed away, I uttered a tearful ‘amen’. The moment of reaching out to others in my darkest hour opened my eyes to the truth of Dante’s verse, “In His will is our peace”.

Sunil Macwan, SJ (GUJ) is a Jesuit priest of Gujarat Province. He holds a doctorate in Postcolonial English Literature from Marquette University, USA. Currently, he is an Assistant Professor of English at St. Xavier’s College, Ahmedabad. His areas of interest include literature, critical theory, and cultural studies. He also writes articles on various literary, sociopolitical, and spiritual topics in both print and electronic media.

Vijaya Bhaskar Rao, SJ

I got it twice!

By Vijaya Bhaskar Rao, SJ

Although I had no symptoms, I was detected with Covid-19 for the first time on 22 July 2020.  I was under medication for 15 days as advised by the doctor. That weakened my body. I got Covid-19 for the second time on 26 September 2020 with all its deadly symptoms. Doctor advised me to get admitted in the hospital immediately since my oxygen level was going down below normal.

I got admitted in hospital. Covid-19 treatment began with all steroids and anti-biotics began. But and RTPCR test done after five days came up positive again. But the doctor assured me not to worry much. So I got discharged on the sixth day, but I isolated myself for three weeks in my room.

I was frightened when the oxygen level was going down. I thought I would die. But at the same time, I felt I was not ready to die. After two days, a thought flashed through my mind, ‘How will I die unless it is part of God’s plan for me?’ This thought gave me a lot of strength. After getting discharged from the hospital, the first three weeks were terrible, with a completed drained body. Due to lack of energy, I was unable to walk and unable to sit for long even while eating. But the doctor advised me to walk every hour at least for two to three minutes. And I did follow his advice. And I had to manage cleaning my room and washing my clothes by myself. Being unable to sleep for three weeks  was another great struggle.

It took almost two months to fully recover and resume normal life. After three months, I could feel an enormous amount of energy in my body. My confidence level increased. And I was not yet all frightened during the second wave. What really helped me besides all other things was my readiness to accept God’s will for me’ and my own ‘will power’ to get up and walk. At the end I feel happy that I got Covid-19. And I feel grateful to God for allowing me to go through the experience of Covid-19 for it has improved my physical health, emotional strength and spiritual vigour.

N. Vijaya Bhaskar Rao, SJ (AND) is an advocate, practicing in both Telangana and Andhra Pradesh. He also directs retreats for the religious.