Covid-19: How restricted mobility has disrupted the prayer routine of senior citizens

In the midst of a pandemic without that one outlet, many senior citizens are feeling lonely, anxious, bereft of company and clicking on online prayer links is little comfort when there is no known face praying along with them.

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Covid-19 has scarred senior citizens, forced them to break a pattern that they have followed for decades where they went to the church, mosque or temple, met friends and returned to their drudgeries.

In the midst of a pandemic without that one outlet, many senior citizens are feeling lonely, anxious, bereft of company and clicking on online prayer links is little comfort when there is no known face praying along with them.

Angelin Lobo was a regular at St John the Evangelist Church and Holy Family Church in Mumbai for over 10 years. The 79-year-old suffers from dementia and until the pandemic struck, every day her daughter took her for the morning mass. "She liked meeting people, known faces brought comfort to her. Now she sits in the balcony and stares at the church grounds," says her daughter, Maria Harding. Lobo, because of her dementia, will not be able to connect with people on the phone and heading out to church even when lockdown is over is not an optionas the risk of infection remains.


Lobo is among the many who in their twilight years have seen their social gatherings shrink. They have access to the YouTube links and WhatsApp messages where videos of masses and prayers are uploaded, but watching them from the comfort of their homes is not what they want.

"The senior citizens are feeling the stress of the pandemic. We have outreach programmes where we ask all in the community to help them out, call them. Three times a week, I call up senior citizens, say a prayer with them and keep a lookout for signs of depression," Archbishop of Bombay spokesperson Father Nigel Barrett said.

For 74-year-old Alok Kumar Mitra, the virus has forced him to break a ritual which he followed for the last 40 years. Every Tuesday, he went to the Kalighat temple in Kolkata at 4.30 am. "Earlier my friends used to come along but they stopped and for the past many years I have taken my bike for the morning darshan, irrespective of my health or weather conditions. I feel anxious that I have not offered my prayers," said the businessman who plans to make an attempt to head for the temple coming Tuesday. "It is like a tradition and I learnt it from my mother. There are such terrible reports all around and this was one solace for me," said Mitra.
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Sociologist GK Karanth said it would be difficult for the elderly since they had a schedule in their minds. Finding a replacement for a daily routine that included companionship, local gossip and exchanging pleasantries within their homes is a challenge. That too in cities, where there is little space for them.

"I took Bible classes for 60 children, am part of many church associations and although I spend time with my grandchildren, my outings have stopped," said a retired teacher in Mumbai who did not want to be named. She is not sure if her family will allow her to go to the church as long as the virus fear remains. "Mobility is restricted, now they are forced to spend all their hours with their spouse or a larger family and in the given circumstances, it takes a toll on their minds," said Karanth. He highlighted how at outside religious places a group of senior citizens would break into arguments and leave in a huff, but gather again the following day, in the same spot, at the same time.

The retired teacher may now have to adopt and adapt to newer ways of keeping herself occupied, which is tougher for senior citizens.

Then there are people who wait for an annual pilgrimage, or those like Zarina Abubakar Bhurani who every year during Ramadan financially assisted about 20 families. For the 74-year-old, this was an opportunity to meet them and they were her guests. But this year her son told her that visitors would not be allowed, which had upset her.
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"She said if she could meet them from her window, but that did not happen either," said her son, Rasheed Abubakar Bhurani.
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