Four adult siblings, all nurses who worked with coronavirus patients during the worst of the pandemic, will on Friday meet Pope Francis, together with their families.
The invitation for the private audience was extended after Pope Francis called the two brothers and two sisters, who have been working on the front line against COVID-19 in Italy and Switzerland.
“The pontiff wants to embrace us all,” Raffaele Mautone, the oldest brother, told the Italian-language Swiss newspaper La Regione.
The 13 family members will present to Pope Francis a box full of the letters and writings of some of those who have been directly affected by the COVID-19 pandemic -- the sick, healthcare workers, and those mourning the death of a loved one.
One brother, Valerio, 43, is traveling to the papal audience on foot. Over five days, he is walking about 50 miles of the ancient Via Francigena pilgrimage route, from Viterbo to Rome, to arrive at their Sept. 4 meeting with Pope Francis.
His sister Maria, 36, asked for prayers on Facebook for “our pilgrim,” who she said is making the pilgrimage for their family and for all the nurses and sick people in the world.
After revealing that she would be meeting the pope, Maria wrote on Facebook that she is “very happy” to bring anyone’s letter to Francis. “You must not be ashamed or apologize... Thank you for having exposed your fears, thoughts, concerns,” she said.
The family of nurses started to receive attention from local media outlets during Italy’s government-imposed lockdown, when the coronavirus outbreak was at its worst.
Their father was also a nurse for 40 years, and three of their spouses work as nurses too. “It is the profession we love. Today even more,” Raffaele told the Como newspaper La Provincia in April.
The family is from Naples, where one sister, Stefania, 38, still lives.
Raffaele, 46, lives in Como, but works in an Italian-speaking part of southern Switzerland, in the town of Lugano. His wife is also a nurse and they have three children.
Valerio and Maria both live and work in Como, which is not far from the Italian-Swiss border.
Stefania told the magazine Città Nuova that at the beginning of the pandemic, she was tempted to stay at home because she has a daughter. “But after a week I said to myself: ‘But one day what will I tell my daughter? That I ran away?’ I trusted in God and I started.”
“Rediscovering humanity is the only cure,” she said, noting that she and other nurses helped patients make video calls since relatives were not allowed to visit, and when she could, she sang classic Neapolitan songs or Schubert’s “Ave Maria” to provide some cheer.
“So I keep them happy with a little lightness,” she noted.
Maria works in a general surgery ward which was turned into a subintensive care unit for COVID-19 patients. “I saw hell with my own eyes and I was not used to seeing all these dead,” she told Città Nuova. “The only way to stay close to the sick is with a touch.”
Raffaele said he was inspired by his fellow nurses, who spent hours holding the hands of patients, being with them in silence or listening to their stories.
“We need to change course both towards people and towards nature. This virus has taught us this and our love must be even more contagious,” he stated.
He told La Provincia April he was proud of “the commitment of his siblings, at the forefront during these weeks.”