HEROIC WITNESSES – Pastors succumb to Covid-19

– Fr Leonard Dollentas

As the world is facing an incredibly contagious and dangerous pandemic with global cases rising above 650,000 and more than 30,000 dead (March 27), Italy’s death toll for COVID-19 surged to 10,000. Reports confirmed that among those who perished in Italy were priests who were infected by the dreaded virus.

Bishop Enrico Salmi, the bishop of Parma sadly declared, “It is painful to see the priests fall sick. Sometimes it happens (to them) out of pastoral zeal. They enter the intensive care unit where, naturally, no one is supposed to go.” The number of fallen priests has surged to more than 60, with ages ranging from 45 to 104.

While public Masses have been suspended, priests in Italy continue to bring God’s presence to the faithful, as the deadly pandemic ravages the country. Faithful to their priestly zeal, they would not allow their parishioners to die alone and lonely.  Indeed, they were priests who gave their life for the God they believe and for the people they love – an inspiring dedication of their life and service which prompted a local Catholic in Macau to say: “I wonder why the big media networks never report the heroic witnessing of those priests, the same way they have amplified priests’ scandals for years.”

Among those tested positive are undergoing hospitalization, some have recovered and are now in stable condition. Bishop Antonio Napolioni of Cremona is among those who have recovered. He was hospitalized for 10 days with severe respiratory symptoms after contracting COVID-19. Despite his alarming condition, he expressed much concern for others more than for himself: “I experienced minute by minute the dramatic crescendo of problems in the situation and the workload on doctors, nurses and all the staff,” the bishop recalled of his time in the hospital. The bishop even finds spiritual insights from having had the virus when he said: “It is an absurd Lent. But, in a certain sense, perfect. Jesus is in the desert for forty days, fighting with the devil. Lent is not about the beauty of custom, but the profound mystery of the evil, death, and despair that exist. But also of the Lord who is there. We must recognize His presence.”

The town of Bergamo, in northern Italy, has been hit the hardest with at least 20 priests who died from COVID19. Seventeen more have been taken to the hospital, and two are in intensive care, the local report said. Other dioceses which have lost priests to coronavirus include Parma, Cremona, Milan, Lodi, Brescia, Casale Monferrato, Tortona, Trento, Bolzano, Salerno, Ariano Irpino, Nuoro, and Pesaro.

During a Mass in early March, Pope Francis called on Italian priests to “have the courage to go out to the sick amid the rapidly growing pandemic. We pray to God also for our priests, so they have the courage to go out to the sick, bringing the strength of the Word of God and the Eucharist,” he said.  (In photo: Bishop Antonio Napolioni of Cremona, courtesy of Cremona Oggi)