As India marked over 200,000 deaths attributed to COVID-19, the Catholic Church is also suffering: Several priests have died with the coronavirus over the past week.

Between April 20-23, Matters India reported that as many as 14 priests have succumbed to the disease, with several others dying since.

One of those was Father Prasanna Pradhan, the vicar general of the Archdiocese of Cuttack-Bhubaneswar, who died on April 25.

Archbishop John Barwa of Cuttack Bhubaneshwar spoke to Crux about the death of Pradhan and another priest from his archdiocese who died from the disease.

“In two days, we lost two priests. Father Bimal Nayak was a boy from Kandhamal. I ordained him a priest for the Indian Missionary Society. it is a very sad day for us. My vicar general – Father Prasanna Pradhan passed away on Sunday evening. He is the first victim of COVID-19 in the Archdiocese of Cuttack-Bhubaneswar,” he said.

“During these day of uncertainty, what is called for us is to be closely connected to God and surrender everything into His holy hands. Our talents, abilities, matter less today. Our will must be only to do His will and be witness of His love: Love in action to neighbour.  Let us obey the Golden Rule: Love your God will all your heart and your neighbour as yourself.”

Nayak’s uncle, Father Prados Chandra Nayak, told Crux about how the priest’s death affected the family.

“My sister and my brother in-law – parents of Father Bimal – are sad, but said, we had offered my son to God and doesn’t claim anything: He was no longer ours, but God’s. But our sadness is, that due to the lockdown and COVID restriction, we had not seen our son since last March, and even in his last days, we could not serve and take care of our son. But he belonged to God and that gives us peace. Sadness yes, but peace,” he said.

Bimal Nayak’s father was a Baptist pastor. They studied in a Mission school and then all became Catholics. Bimal became the first priest from Fatima Catholic Church in Pokari, Kandhamal.

“When he was studying and shared with me that he wanted to become a priest, I took him on my motorbike to meet a vocation promoter of the Indian Missionary Society,” Padros Nayak recalled.

“It is a very painful time for me, he was a very vibrant young priest, and it is a great loss for me personally, for our Kandhamal people and his Indian Missionary society confreres. God has given life, given him vocation, ordained him, made him a priest, and in his service, he has died,” he said.

In a note to the press, the Indian Missionary Society said the deceased priest “was a melodious singer, musician, composer, able organiser, and a multi-faceted young and vibrant missionary.”

“He worked in Bhagawanpura mission of Khandwa diocese and Nandganj mission of Varanasi. Both being far interior village missions, he worked miracles there by organising training programs for youth, women and children, income generation programs spiritual conventions, human rights programs etc. for people of all faiths. He had an integral and inclusive vision and approach to mission.  We are extremely sad that he left us at the peak of his youthfulness. His body was buried in Christnagar, Varanasi,” the society said.

Father Prem Anthony, a priest of the Indian Missionary Society, wrote a separate obituary for Nayak, calling him a “zealous missionary.”

“From his student days, he proved himself a pleasant, friendly, honest and dutiful religious. Bimal was an extraordinary minister. He worked as if he knew he did not have much time left. He had a special knack to befriend the villagers and the local officials and easily earned their trust and affection. And he worked in collaboration with all, raking in support and co-operation from everyone and every corner. Seeing his interest and sincerity, many people went out of their way to assist him, materially and otherwise,” he wrote.