As the Ebola outbreak continues to spread through West Africa, now claiming the life of a nun and a priest along with 1,000 others, Catholics in hard-hit areas are being asked to change their worship habits in a desperate attempt to check the deadly progress of the disease.
According to the Wall Street Journal (WSJ), Father Miguel Pajares, a 75-year-old missionary of the San Juan de Dios hospital order, passed away this morning in a special isolation unit of Madrid's Carlos III Hospital, where he was being treated after being flown into the country last week.
Fr. Pajares contracted Ebola while ministering to patients of the disease in Liberia.
Even though he was given the experimental drug, ZMapp, which appears to have helped the two American missionaries who are being treated in the U.S. after being infected in Liberia, it was unable to save the priest's life.
"Spanish state-owned news agency EFE quoted people attending Mr. Pajares as saying that the priest experienced breathing problems and a marked decline in his vital signs in the hours preceding his death," WSJ reports.
The disease, which begins with flu-like symptoms and eventually leads to nausea, diarrhea, and internal and external bleeding, kills up to 90 percent of the persons it infects. Currently, more than 1,000 have died and at least that many more are reportedly sick with the disease at the present time.
The disease also claimed the life of Sister Chantal Pascaline, a Congolese nun of the same order as Fr. Pajares, this past weekend.
According to the Associated Press, Sr. Chantal was evacuated from Liberia along with Fr. Pajares and was being treated in the same Madrid hospital.
As the death toll continues to climb, authorities in Liberia are taking steps to curb its spread by warning people to avoid public gatherings, including Sunday worship.
Ebola is spread through contact with body fluids such as sweat, saliva and blood.
However, according to the Huffington Post, churches were packed this past weekend in the Liberian capital of Monrovia with people seeking the help and comfort of God as their mourn their lost loved ones and pray for their own lives.
"Outside churches in the capital, plastic buckets with taps containing chlorinated water sat on stools, allowing worshipers to disinfect their hands," the Post reports. "Inside, pastors told their congregations to follow instructions from health workers, some of whom have been attacked by locals terrified by the disease."
Officials in the Catholic Archdiocese of Abuja in Nigeria issued a directive asking the faithful to receive communion in the hand rather than on the tongue to avoid contamination from saliva. The kiss of peace has also been done away until the spread of the disease is brought under control.
“Due to the prevailing national situation on the Ebola Virus Disease (EVD), I am directing that the following pastoral guidelines should be observed throughout our Archdiocese till further notice," said a statement by John Cardinal Onaiyekan. “The sign of peace should be omitted at Mass, Communion in the hand is highly recommended and should be encouraged (unless for those who insist on receiving on the tongue)."
Rev. Fr. Moses Jimbili, a priest serving at SS Peter and Paul Catholic Church, in Nyanya, Nigeria, told NAN that the directives make sense. “You know some people sweat a lot and since one of the ways the virus can be transmitted is through sweating, it will be better to stop handshake so that one does not contract it.’’
The faithful around the world are being asked to continue to pray for an end to this deadly scourge which has already become the worst outbreak of Ebola in history and shows no signs of ending anytime soon.
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