Bishops throughout Italy visited cemeteries last week to pray and offer Mass for the souls of those who died after contracting the coronavirus. Among the 13,915 coronavirus deaths in Italy, at least 87 have been priests.
“Hear Lord the pain that rises from this land that we still believe blessed … We believe that in the death on the cross of your Son Jesus and in his burial, every cross, every death, every burial is redeemed from abandonment, from darkness, from nothing,” Bishop Francesco Beschi said March 27 in a cemetery in Bergamo, a hard-hit northern Italian city where 553 people died in March.
In Beschi’s diocese of Bergamo alone, 25 diocesan priests have died after contracting COVID-19.
“This week I went to the cemetery with the desire to become a voice of prayer and pain that has no chance to express themselves and remains enclosed not only in our homes, but above all in our hearts. In some ways … it is as if our cities had become a large cemetery. Nobody is seen anymore. Disappeared. We can see each other through the media and social media, fortunately, but the city is deserted,” Beschi said in his homily via livestream March 29.
Italy has entered its fourth week of a national mandatory lockdown. On April 1, the Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte announced that the country’s quarantine deadline has been extended to April 13, but noted that the lockdown will not end until “the curve subsides.”
There have been more than 115,000 documented cases of coronavirus in Italy and 13,915 mortalities as of April 2 according to the Italian Ministry of Health.
Avvenire, the newspaper owned by the Italian bishops conference, reported a total of 87 priest mortalities as of March 31. However, this number could be higher; some religious orders, such as the Xaverian Missionary Fathers in Parma, did not test the 16 elderly priests who died in their residence last month.
Three quarters of the diocesan priests reported dead were over the age of 75. The youngest priest to die was 45-year-old Fr. Alessandro Brignone of Salerno. The Southern Italian priest had participated in a Neocatechumenal Way retreat in early March after which many participants tested positive for COVID-19.
The Diocese of Milan reported two new deaths attributed to coronavirus last weekend: Fr. Cesare Terraneo, 75, and Fr. Pino Marelli, 80, bringing the diocesan death toll for priests to 10.
The Diocese of Bolzano, on Italy’s border with Austria, has lost four priests to COVID-19, most recently Fr. Heinrich Kamelger, 85, Fr. Anton Matzneller, 83, and Fr. Reinhard Ebner, 71, who had served as a missionary in Brazil.
New deaths were also reported in the Italian dioceses of Vercelli, Turin, La Spezia-Sarzana-Brugnato, Nuoro, Reggio Emilia-Guastalla, Udine, and Cremona.
The Bishop of Cremona, Antonio Napolioni, was hospitalized for pneumonia caused by COVID-19 for ten days but was released on March 17.
After returning home to continue recovering, the bishop spoke with Pope Francis over the phone, and said he made a joke with the pope about the consequences of being “shepherds who smell of their sheep,” according to Vatican News.
Cardinal Angelo De Donatis, vicar general of the Diocese of Rome, tested positive for coronavirus on March 30, and the Diocese of Ouagadougou in Burkina Faso reported that Cardinal Philippe Ouédraogo had a confirmed case of COVID-19 on March 31.
Other bishops in Italy, France, Burkina Faso, China, and the United States have also tested positive for COVID-19, and Bishop Angelo Moreschi, 67, died in the Italian city of Brescia on March 25 after contracting the coronavirus.