04/01/2020, 12.42
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I have seen life and death in Wuhan (II)

by Helena Xiang - Teresa Grazia Xiao

No funeral in the city martyred by coronavirus. Elders who mourn dead children. Children who sign their parents' death certificates. The generosity of ordinary people and Catholics. Disabled people who collect money for the inhabitants of Wuhan. The Chinese want to live again.

Wuhan (AsiaNews) – The endless queues of people to collect the ashes of loved ones; the drama of the elderly and children left alone; the generosity of the Chinese for those affected by this tragedy. After the initial fear, Wuhan, the epicenter of the coronavirus in China, now wants to return to life. Below the second and last part of the story of Helena Xiang and Teresa Grazia Xiao (click here for part I).

The epidemic has spread outside of China. Seeing many coffins in Italian churches, and priests praying for the dead, the inhabitants of Wuhan were deeply saddened yes, but also envious. Those who died of Covid-19 in the city, after being put into the garbage bags, were loaded onto trucks and taken to the crematoriums: without family members to watch over them; without a funeral; and without dignity.

The city funeral homes are filled with people looking for the ashes of loved ones. Endless lines to collect the remains of a family member, relative or an entire family. An elderly couple, she 80 years old and he 90 years old, had to sign the death certificates for their son, daughter-in-law and grandson. Even an eight-year-old boy was forced to sign the certificate for his parents.

There are destroyed families in Wuhan who have exhausted the tears of a lifetime. The liveliness and vigor of the locals have disappeared. Wuhan's people, the "nine-headed bird", have fallen, and lie on the ground struggling for breath.

In the face of this immense tragedy, the city government has created at least 10 emergency telephone numbers to provide psychological support to the population. Initially, an operator could also receive 300 calls a day: some from desperate or anxious people, others from cold and insensitive citizens. Then, as the epidemic got worse, the calls began to decrease.

It is a sad and lonely winter for everyone in Wuhan. However, kindness and generosity help to endure this situation. For the Catholic faithful it is a moment of great prayer. Some churches broadcast Holy Mass on the internet. On February 26, Ash Wednesday, the dioceses transmitted the liturgy. Friday is a fasting day: many faithful in China do not eat meat for the entire period of Lent. On March 19 we recited the rosary together with Pope Francis; on March 25 and 27 we prayed together with him.

Chinese Catholics are trying to help ease people's pains. There are nuns who participate in psychological support groups. Many dioceses and parishes, like groups of faithful or individuals, make donations to support relief efforts. 14 million yuan was raised to purchase medical supplies for Wuhan, mainly through Jinde Charities. Their help is also directed to those who suffer outside of China. 4 million yuan was donated to the Vatican and Italy; 2 million for South Korea.

There is a great spirit of fraternity in China right now. Wuhan is receiving aid not only from the central government. A village in Henan donated 100 tons of shallots; another in Yunnan 22 tons of bananas; a farmer from Jingtai County (Gansu) gave 10 tons of apples; a farmer from Mianyang (Sichuan) donated 15 tons of vegetables. Suning, a Chinese retail giant, sent 100 tons of vegetables; Er Kang, a pharmaceutical company, offered 20 tons of rice. Shandong Province donated 400 tons of garlic and 600 tons of vegetables.


Ordinary people such as street cleaners, soldiers, small shopkeepers and retirees have sent thousands of yuan to help the population of Wuhan. Support has often come from the poorest and most unfortunate. For example, a blind couple gave 1000 yuan; a disabled beggar raised 185 yuan.

Many citizens online are asking the authorities to return the money to these generous people. The kindness of the elderly and the poor is understandable, but their money must not be accepted. Online groups have been created that raise funds to return money to poor donors.

There is no lack of problems. Some doctors have been attacked by the families of their patients infected with the virus. Fake masks have been distributed all over China. Wuhan local authorities have often proven unable to manage the crisis. The city's Red Cross is accused of selling the supplies received as donations. Then there are the little stories of people who lost their jobs: some committed suicide from the  trauma. Many doctors and nurses who have struggled to save lives in Wuhan are not receiving the benefits promised by the local government. Some of them are forced to live in "self-isolation" in their homes.

The elderly often live in conditions of marginalization, because they are considered more vulnerable to the disease. One 77-year-old gentleman, after being on lock down in his house for a long time, said he wanted to find his place in city life again: he wants to go back to take pictures around Wuhan.

In this crisis, there are many unanswered questions. The biggest is: where did this infection come from, and what caused it? The Chinese think it is a divine punishment for man's wrongs towards nature. We understand that men are fragile and often incapable. One Wuhan resident said: “I have seen so many dead that I do not want to argue any more. Indeed, if someone tells me that 'one plus one equals seven', I will now smile."

The epidemic will go away, but when will serenity come? Helena wrote in Wechat that “all that God gives me, I accept it; all that God asks of me, I give it.” On April 8, Wuhan will return to normal life: we pray for a hopeful Easter, even if the churches are still closed. There will be an outpouring of prayers in China. As a blessing, an alleluia from all Christians will fly out to the whole world. Wuhan citizens say: "We will meet at the Yellow Crane Tower (Huánghè Lóu) and sing among the flowers."

(Second and final part)

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