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– Tej Francis<
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WASHINGTON

LENT IN THE TIME OF CORONAVIRUS: MORE PRAYER AND UNEXPECTED PENANCE

CORONAVIRUS-LENT

(CNS) Parish fish fries, prayer services, Stations of the Cross, and daily and Sunday Masses are all canceled, and some dioceses have already announced they will not have services during Holy Week or Easter on April 12.

This year’s Lent may not be normal, but many have pointed out that the penitential qualities tied to this health crisis — suffering, giving up and solitude — are in fact symbolic of Lent’s spiritual practice of self-denial.

Paulist Father Larry Rice, director of the University Catholic Center at the University of Texas at Austin, said a number of people have compared the notion of quarantine to Christ’s 40 days in the desert and the 40 days of Lent.

“We need to look at this as a temporary thing we are doing for the sake of another good,” he said of the current time of staying in place to prevent coronavirus spread, adding that it could be viewed as a period of retreat with extra time for prayer or spiritual reading.

With the halt to normal routines for many, Bishop Frank J. Caggiano of Bridgeport, Connecticut, pointed out that “at a minimum, we now have extra time to spend in prayer each day — prayer that is sorely needed to seek eternal repose for the dead, to remember those who are sick and living in great fear, our health care workers who remain on the front lines of this disease, and for one another.”

“We may never again have a Lenten season that affords us so much time to give to the Lord. Let us use this time wisely and well,” he posted on Facebook March 17.

Along with extra time to pray, the current pandemic also offers a heightened perspective.

BERGAMO, ITALY

AT LEAST 28 PRIESTS IN NORTHERN ITALY HAVE DIED FROM COVID-19

COVID-CHINA-MASKS-VATICAN

(CNA) Italian dioceses surrounding Milan have reported the deaths of 30 priests during the coronavirus outbreak.

Avvenire, the Italian newspaper owned by the Italian bishops conference, attributes at least 28 of these priests’ deaths to COVID-19, and also notes two additional cases: that of Fr. Guido Mortari, who died of pneumonia before he could get tested, and Fr. Giorgio Bosini, who had a serious underlying medical condition.

All but three of the priests were over the age of 70, and more than half were over 80 years old. The youngest priest to die from coronavirus, Fr. Andrea Avanzini of the Diocese of Parma, was 54 years old.

Eleven of the deceased priests come from the Diocese of Bergamo, where at least 15 other priests have been hospitalized, according to the local bishop

Fr. Remo Rota, an Italian priest who served as a missionary in the Democratic Republic of Congo for 38 years, died on March 17 in Bergamo after testing positive for coronavirus. He was 77.

Six priests have died of the coronavirus in the Diocese of Parma. Among them was Fr. Franco Minardi, who served the same parish for 70 years, and Fr. Nicola Masi, a Saveriani Missionary of Parma, who once served as a missionary in the Amazon.

The Diocese of Piacenza-Bobbio reported the deaths of three priests, including 87-year-old twin brothers, Fr. Mario Boselli and Fr. Giovanni Boselli, who died within a day of each other.

Other Italian dioceses with reported coronavirus deaths are Cremona, Milan, Lodi, Brescia, Casale Monferrato and Tortona.

HONG KONG

CHINESE DIOCESE DONATES MASKS TO VATICAN, ITALY, TO HELP FIGHT COVID-19

(CNS) A Catholic diocese in China’s Shaanxi province has donated thousands of face masks to communities in the Vatican and Italy to help them fight the coronavirus.

Ucanews.com reported Xi’an Diocese has donated 24,000 disposable medical masks to the Vatican and religious communities and dioceses in Italy such as Milan and Bologna.

“When mainland China experienced the epidemic, the Holy See and the Italian church group helped by sending medical masks. We have now effectively contained the virus, but Italy is now suffering. It is our turn to help them,” Father Chen Ruixue of Xi’an told ucanews.com.

The coronavirus, he said, “is the public enemy of humanity. Only when all people work together to fight the disease can we overcome the pandemic.”

As of March 19, China had reported 81,139 COVID-19 cases with 3,253 deaths. However, the number of newly diagnosed cases on March 18 was only 34, all of which were overseas cases. The death toll also came down on March 18, with only eight fatalities.

After China, Italy has become the worst-affected country, with hundreds of deaths and infections in the past few weeks, killing nearly 3,000 people. At least 475 people died in Italy on March 18 alone.

The Vatican has donated masks to China since January.

Father Chen said he was told the masks the Vatican receives in a donation would be distributed to “the needy people on the streets, which is admirable and an urgency.”

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