The Catholic community in the Diocese of Pathein provides all human and material resources, facilities, and financial support to help cope with the Covid-19 pandemic. This is what the administrator of the diocese, Fr. Henry Eikhlein, wrote since the death of Bishop John Hsane Hgyi Pathein, who died on July 22, 2021, due to Covid-19.
The College of Consultors of the diocese convened the assembly which unanimously elected Fr. Henry Eikhlein as Diocesan Administrator. The priest was a parish priest and professor at the Major Seminary in Pathein, head of the Catholic aid organization “Karuna” (Caritas) in Pathein, and coordinator of the pastoral center of the diocese.
In the letter sent to priests, religious, and laypeople of the diocese, the Administrator reports on the activities of the diocese to overcome the pandemic and refers to the opening of the “Quarantine and Care Center” organized by “Karuna” in the Pathein Social Center. There are also other similar centers in the diocese, such as the one cared for by the Sisters of St. Francis Xavier in Theyetpin Maung Nama. The elderly priests of the diocese – says Father Henry Eikhlein – live in the Minor Seminary, in Mayanchaung, six miles from Pathein, to protect them from infection. All 36 parishes are alerted and people stay at home, following national Covid-19 prevention measures and guidelines. Parish priests are encouraged to form special teams of volunteers and take immediate action to provide relief and care for those in need. Despite these efforts, the diocese of Pathein has so far lost the bishop, three priests, three religious, two women religious, a catechist, and over 20 laypeople.
With a quote from St. Augustine, he emphasizes: “If you do not believe, you will not understand” (Isaiah 7,9). “We recognize that there are many things that remain in the dark and that we cannot understand with our human mind. However, we humbly believe in the love of God that does not abandon us. We believe in God’s Providence and his plans which are present in the course of human history”. And he adds: “Without God, we can do nothing; without us, God cannot act, as the wisdom of St. Augustine teaches us. We will be faithful and put all our human efforts into cooperation with the power of God. In faith, we know that we will survive these trials and emerge victorious”.
The diocese of Pathein consists of 36 parishes divided into three areas: Pathein, Hinthada, and Myaungmya. It is located in the Ayeyarwady region (which includes 26 parishes in six civil districts). The total number of civilians in the Ayeyarwady region is 6.1 million (2014 census). Of the total of six civil districts, the diocese of Pathein alone comprises four districts, while two other districts belong to the Archdiocese of Yangon. Today the Diocese of Pathein has about 70,000 Catholics with a population of 4 million in the four districts of the Ayeyarwady region. The diocese currently has 107 priests working in the various parishes.
Geographically, the Ayeyarwady region is considered a particularly disaster-prone area due to its location in the lowlands and was hit hard by Cyclone Nargis on May 2, 2008, which claimed hundreds of thousands of lives and left millions homeless. There were also floods in 2012, 2015, and 2016.