In the past week alone, more than 3,000 people have died in Italy after contracting the coronavirus. Among the dead are at least 60 priests this month, according to local media reports.
“I pray to the Holy Spirit to give us the gift of light and strength. Everyday I do the Via Crucis asking the Lord … to carry this cross with us,” Bishop Gianni Ambrosio of Piacenza-Bobbio said in an Italian interview.
Avvenire, the newspaper owned by the Italian bishops conference, published the names of 51 diocesan priests who died after contracting COVID-19, and noted that religious communities in Italy had also reported nine coronavirus related deaths.
The majority of the deceased were over the age of 70 years old, and some of these priests had underlying health conditions.
The youngest priest to die from COVID-19 in Italy was Fr. Paolo Camminati, who died in the hospital on March 21 at age 53.
Fr. Camminati was known for his dynamic youth ministry, service to the poor, work with Catholic Action, and passion for the mountains. He was the parish priest of Our Lady of Lourdes in Diocese of Piacenza, where five other priests with COVID-19 have died.
Among the dead in Piacenza is Fr. Kidane Berhane, a Cistercian monk originally from Eritrea, who resided in the historic Chiaravalle Abbey in Lombardy. Also deceased are 87-year-old twin brothers, Fr. Mario Boselli and Fr. Giovanni Boselli, who died within a day of each other.
“It is a tough trial. We are dismayed. We feel great suffering,” Bishop Ambrosio told Avvenire.
"It is a darkness that we must face, but with the hope that God never abandons us, that he himself has gone through all the suffering to overcome it,” the bishop added.
Other priests who have died of COVID-19 in Piacenza include Fr. Giuseppe Castelli, 85, and Fr. Giovanni Cordani, 83.
The Diocese of Bergamo has reported the deaths of 20 diocesan priests and two religious. Fr. Fausto Resmini, a former prison chaplain and minister to the homeless, died on March 23 at the age of 67. He had been treated in intensive care since March 5.
“In these days I am listening to the voices of many people, feeling pain for the loss of their loved ones,” Bishop Francesco Beschi of Bergamo said March 19.
In response to this suffering, the Diocese of Bergamo has opened a telephone service that offers free psychological and spiritual counseling and support.
Other Italian dioceses that have lost priests to coronavirus include Parma, Cremona, Milan, Lodi, Brescia, Casale Monferrato, Tortona, Trento, Bolzano, Salerno, Ariano Irpino, Nuoro, and Pesaro.
Italy has the highest coronavirus death toll in the world. The Italian Ministry of Health reported March 23 that 5,476 people have died. More than 59,000 people have tested positive for COVID-19 in Italy since February.
The Bishop of Pinerolo has tested positive for COVID-19. Bishop Derio Olivero was hospitalized March 19 with breathing complications. He is 59 years old and remains in stable condition.
Bishop Antonio Napolioni of Cremona has recovered after being hospitalized for 10 days with severe respiratory symptoms after contracting COVID-19. He returned to his home March 16.
Four diocesan priests and one Passionist missionary, Fr. Edmondo Zagano, have died after contracting COVID-19 in the Diocese of Cremona.
“I experienced minute by minute the dramatic crescendo of problems in the situation and the workload on doctors, nurses and all the staff,” Bishop Napolioni recalled of his time in the hospital.
“It is an absurd Lent,” he said. “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."