The Italian priests represent more than 1% of the victims of the coronavirus in Italy, a huge and revealing proportion of the risks taken by the priests, who go in contact with the sick and continue to ensure, in cemeteries, the blessing of the deceased, failing that to be able to preside over ceremonies in churches. According to a count made by “L’Avvenire”, the daily linked to the Italian episcopate, at least 69 priests have died in Italy since the start of the pandemic.
The Italian clergy are living in a particularly trying time, especially in the diocese of Bergamo, a city in Lombardy that has become an epicenter of this pandemic that is turning the lives of 60 million Italians upside down. Out of 69 deceased priests, 23 are listed in this diocese. This established figure established by Avvenire on the morning of March 26 is probably underestimated, because not all deaths in religious communities have been listed.
Across the country, Christian communities are losing pastors who have served the poor. Elderly and retired priests, but also parish priests, prison chaplains and those responsible for the pastoral care of migrants have been devastated by the virus. A bishop is also among the victims: it is Mgr Angelo Moreschi, vicar apostolic of Gambella in Ethiopia, who died on March 25 in Brescia.
The oldest priest in this long list of the deceased was 104 years old. Ordained a priest in urgency and in privacy in May 1940, when the Second World War began, Bishop Mario Cavalleri was also buried discreetly, in the context of another “world war”, that waged against the coronavirus. During his nearly 80 years of priesthood, this priest from Cremona had notably developed numerous cooperation projects with the Ivory Coast.
Much younger priests are also struck. The Diocese of Parma mourns the loss of a 55-year-old priest who, like many Italians, lived with his sick mother, whom he took care of to the point of giving his life. In the same city, a community of former Xaverian missionaries has already lost 13 of its members. In the diocese of Plaisance, the death of two 87-year-old twin priests, a few days apart, aroused great emotion. All over Italy, priests, fully integrated into social life and known for their commitment to contact with the population, pay this generosity with their lives.
A global pandemic that particularly affects priests
Concerning the rest of the world, it is difficult to establish precise statistics but many expect an excess mortality in the clergy and the religious communities. In France, for example, the first death of the Covid-19 reported in the Ardeche department last week was that of a 78-year-old priest, Father Marcel Saby. In several other dioceses, priests are hospitalized. In the midst of this painful panorama, however, some good news emerged, such as, for example, last month in China the healing of a 98-year-old bishop, then considered the dean of those healed in this country where the pandemic had started in December.
In Italy, the bishop of Cremona, affected by the coronavirus, is now cured. Asked a few days ago by our colleagues from the Italian service of Vatican Radio, from his hospital bed, Archbishop Antionio Napolioni gave a spiritual reading of this trying time, confident that “Like everything that challenges the intelligence of men, it is a great opportunity for conversion. A more complete Lent could not have happened to us from a certain point of view. Dramatically hard, but for that very reason, perfect. ”