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Be not afraid of swine flu, bishops say

A UMNS Report
By Linda Green*
May 4, 2009 | BETHESDA, Md. (UMNS)

Stay calm. Avoid blaming others. Embrace the sick in Christian love.

 
Bishop Deborah Kiesey

 

Those are some of the words of counsel on the swine flu epidemic offered by United Methodist bishops throughout the world gathering for their spring meeting, which began May 3.

United Methodists and church officials need to be cognizant of their call to reach out to people with compassion and love, Iowa Bishop Julius Trimble said in an interview.

“We have not been given a spirit of timidity or fear but a spirit of power in love,” he said. While being aware of the health warning and precautions to take, he said, “We should not separate ourselves from those persons who may be the most vulnerable and may need the church at this time.”

Since the first reported outbreak of the swine flu virus in Mexico in April, 20 countries have reported nearly 1,000 cases of the virus also known as influenza A (H1N1), the World Health Organization reported May 4. The United States has reported 226 cases in 30 states.

 
Bishop Earl Bledsoe

United Methodist bishops are urging church members not to panic and to avoid stereotyping people or countries to prevent any backlash against immigrant populations.

“If we compare what is really going on with the 36,000 deaths that happen yearly with the regular flu, I think we can put this into some perspective,” Dakotas Bishop Deborah Kiesey said.

California-Pacific Bishop Mary Ann Swenson agreed. “People need to stay calm in the midst of this and remember that people get the flu every year.”

She urged people not to think about where people are from but to ‘remember that we are all neighbors to one another and friends to one another.” She also advises following health protocols like regular hand washing and use of sanitizers to stay safe.

Another church leader advising calm and respect for the dignity of others is North Texas Bishop Earl Bledsoe.

When people overreact, “they do not come forth being the best that God would have us to be,” he said.

 
Bishop Robert Hoshibata

 

Bishop Robert Hoshibata of Oregon-Idaho Area said efforts should focus on preventing the spread of the flu instead of concentrating on who started it or where the virus originated.

“This is not a new thing,” he said.”The concerns about health and sanitation are not new and we encourage people to educate others as best as possible and not be afraid.”

Sickness is something that can happen to anyone, said Bishop Sudarshana Devadhar of the Greater New Jersey Area.

“It can come to anyone and it can be spread from anyone. All of us are children of God. Don’t put the blame on a particular community and we need to be very sensitive to that because we are all children of God and it can happen to any one of us,” he said.

United Methodist bishops in Northern Europe and Africa also called for calm and pastoral care.

 
Bishop Rosemarie Wenner

Bishop Rosemarie Wenner of Germany said hospitals are aware of the swine flu and all European countries have promised to share medicines if necessary.

“It is not a big issue in our country so far and we hope and pray that this will be the case in the future,” she said. The church is called to be with the sick and with those who are afraid of the future and of death, she said.

Mozambican Bishop Joaquina Nhanala has not heard of any cases in her country. She said the church can promote pastoral care and help alleviate people’s fear about the virus throughout the world through educating and informing people of the precautions needed. “I think fear comes because people are ignorant about the disease,” she said.

Bishop Peter Weaver of the New England Conference said there is a need to recognize that communities should care for one another.

“It is not about whether I contract the flu or whether I am in poverty,” he said. “It is about sharing one another’s burdens, weeping with those who weep, rejoicing with those who rejoice, particularly around our sisters and brothers who may be from other nations in the world living in our midst. It is an opportunity to reach out and let them know that we care.”

*Green is a United Methodist News Service news writer based in Nashville, Tenn.

News media contact: Linda Green, (615) 742-5470 or newsdesk@umcom.org.

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