UPDATES (Rome time)

 

April 6, 1.50pm

Pope Francis has established an emergency fund to aid people and communities in mission countries who have been hit by the spread of COVID-19.

An initial contribution of $750,000 is to be given through the Pontifical Mission Societies and the Pope has asked that those Church entities that are able and desirous to help, to contribute to this fund through the Pontifical Mission Societies in each country. 

The Emergency Fund will be used to accompany impacted communities in mission countries via Church structures and institutions, Agenzia Fides reported.

 

April 6, 12.43pm

Cardinal Matteo Zuppi of Bologna has given an interview to La Repubblica in which he has said that he, too, would like to celebrate the Holy Week and Easter liturgies but said the risks are too “dangerous” and the “rules must be respected.” 

The cardinal, who never closed the churches in Bologna, suspended all celebrations of the Sacraments along with bishops throughout Italy following the provisions of the bishops’s conference. 

The cardinal said when, at the beginning of the crisis, he saw restaurants open but Masses banned, he initially found it “very hard to understand the government’s decision and asked myself many questions.”   

“We also need God, as well as scientists and doctors,” he said, adding that during these days it is important to “strengthen communion between people and the awareness that the community needs the Eucharist and vice-versa.” 

Cardinal Zuppi was responding to comments from Matteo Salvini, the head of Italy’s Lega Party, who on Sunday called for churches to be reopened over Easter. 

“Science alone is not enough: the Good Lord is also needed,” Salvini said, and noted it is possible to still go to a tobacconist for cigarettes, or go grocery shopping in limited numbers during the nationwide quarantine, but not to Church. “We also need the protection of the Immaculate Heart of Mary,” said Salvini. 

In his interview today, Cardinal Zuppi also stressed the elderly “are not objects” but “indispensable people” who face a double burden of isolation. “It is not acceptable that age should become a discriminating factor to save or condemn a life,” he said. 

He said it is a regrettable reality that too little is done to care for parents and grandparents and to support them at home. If more elderly had been able to “stay at home,” they would have been better protected, he said. 

This crisis, he said, is teaching a lesson on how to really treat the weakest. “If it's true that nothing will be like before, we too must be better,” he said. 

 

April 6, 11am

Cardinal Raymond Burke has given recommendations on how to approach Holy Week this year and urged the faithful not to let the devil, through the coronavirus, “steal our joy” from celebrating Easter.

Noting that many do not have access to the Sacraments at this time, Cardinal Burke reminded the faithful in a message released to coincide with Holy Week that this is a week of “everything to celebrate” as Christ is the “love which conquers every evil.” 

He then recommended various ways to approach Holy Week and Easter this year, placing the Lord at the centre, knowing also that He “does not expect the impossible” but does expect us to do the best we can to “be with Him throughout these days of His powerful grace.”

“Holy Week cannot be for us like any other week but must be marked by the deepest sentiments of faith in Christ Who alone is our salvation,” Cardinal Burke wrote, adding that these sentiments are of “deepest gratitude and love.” 

In his message, he also lamented how in the fight against COVID-19, many today — also some in the Church — fail to recognise the truth that prayer, worship and dependence on God are the “first and most important means of combating any evil.” 

The cardinal wrote in closing: “May our observance of Holy Week, this year, be our strong armament in the ongoing combat against the coronavirus COVID-19. In Christ, the victory will be ours. ‘Do not fear, only believe.’”

Please see full message here

 

April 4, 2.40pm

Pope Francis will celebrate Palm Sunday Mass at 11 o’clock tomorrow morning at the Altar of the Chair in St. Peter’s basilica, the Vatican has announced. 

For the first time in modern history, the Pope's Palm Sunday Mass, like all of the papal Holy Week liturgies this year, will be held without the faithful due to the coronavirus but televised instead on Vatican Media. 

In a statement, the Vatican said that in the presbytery are placed the Crucifix of St. Marcellus, processed in Rome during the Great Plague, and the Salus Populi Romani icon of Our Lady. 

The Vatican said the rite of Commemoration of the entrance of the Lord into Jerusalem would take place at the foot of the Altar of Confession and process towards the Chair, where palm and olive trees have been placed. 

At the Altar, the Mass will take place as usual, it said, except there will be no offertory procession. 

EWTN will be offering full live coverage of the Mass and the Angelus:

The Vatican also said tomorrow will be the XXXV World Youth Day at the diocesan level, on the theme: "Young man, I say to you, arise! (cf. Lk 7:14).” 

The annual World Youth Day, as opposed to the major event held every few years, is traditionally marked on Palm Sunday.

(Photo: Vatican Media)

 

April 3, 10.14pm 

The Vatican this evening released a videomessage from Pope Francis to “Italian families and the world in this time of pandemic” in which he expressed his closeness to all those suffering and making sacrifices because of the coronavirus (see full video above). 

At the end of the message, he notes that Holy Week and Easter will be celebrated this year in this “unusual way,” but asks that “in the silence of our cities, the Easter Gospel will resound.”

“In the risen Jesus, life has conquered death,” the Pope says. “This Easter faith nourishes our hope. I would like to share it with you tonight. It is the hope of a better time, in which we can be better, finally freed from evil and from this pandemic. 

“It is a hope: hope does not disappoint; it is not an illusion, it is a hope,” he said.

“Together with one another, in love and patience, we can prepare a better time in these days.”

 

 

April 2, 1.20pm

Another Vatican employee has tested positive for the coronavirus, the Vatican said today. 

According to a new statement from Holy See Press Office spokesman Matteo Bruni: 

“To the six cases already communicated, another Holy See employee has tested positive who had already been placed in isolation since mid-March because his wife had tested positive for Covid-19 after serving in the Italian hospital where she works.

On this occasion it is useful to clarify that, as with all institutional organisations, the various bodies and departments of the Holy See and the Vatican City State continue only essential, mandatory and unavoidable activities, clearly adopting, to the maximum extent possible, the appropriate measures already communicated, which include remote work and rotational procedures, in order to safeguard the health of the staff.” 

 

April 1, 12.42

The Italian government has decided to extend its national lockdown until Easter Monday, April 13, despite the spread of the virus appearing to have reached its peak. 

Yesterday, official figures showed that for a second day running the daily increase in infections was considerably less than the last 7-10 days, down to 2.8% compared to between 5 and 8%. 

“Beware of false optimism” and “making the error that the first results mean a defeat for COVID-19,” said Roberto Speranza, Italy’s health minister, according to the Italian news agency ANSA. “We should not confuse the first positive signs with an all-clear signal.”

He told the Italian Senate that relaxing the quarantine restrictions will be “gradual and prudent” and that the aim is to “prevent the national health system being hit by another tsunami.”

“The road is still long in the absence of a vaccine,” Speranza said.  

According to the latest official figures, 12,428 people have died in Italy from the virus out of a total of 105,792 cases, making a mortality rate of almost 12%. 

The quarantine period was initially to end on April 3.

 

April 1, 11.25

Pope Francis focused on the sixth Beatitude — that the pure of heart will see God — during his weekly general audience catechesis this morning from the apostolic palace.

The audience was transmitted to the faithful through the media as it has been for the past month due to the coronavirus pandemic. 

Here below is the summary:

“Dear Brothers and Sisters: In our continuing catechesis on the Beatitudes, we now turn to the sixth Beatitude, which promises that the pure of heart will see God. To see God means having a personal relationship with him. This requires looking deep within our hearts and making space for him; as Saint Augustine put it: “You were more inward to me than my most inward part” (Confessions, III, 6, 11). Yet often our hearts are slow and foolish, like those of the disciples on the road to Emmaus, who at first failed to recognize Jesus by their side. To see God, then, requires a process of purification, whereby our hearts are freed from the sin which blinds us to his presence. This entails renouncing evil and allowing the Holy Spirit to instruct and guide us. A further aspect to seeing God is recognizing him in creation, in the Church’s sacraments, and in our brothers and sisters, especially the poorest and most in need. If we let God purify our hearts he will lead us ultimately to the beatific vision where we will enjoy the fullness of joy and peace in the Kingdom of Heaven. 

I greet the English-speaking faithful joining us through the media, as we continue on our Lenten journey towards Easter. Upon you and your families, I invoke the strength and peace that come from our Lord Jesus Christ. May God bless you!” 

 

March 31, 10.11am

“In solidarity with Italy, the Holy See will today display flags at half-mast in mourning to express its closeness to the victims of the pandemic in Italy and around the world, to their families and to those who generously fight to end it” — statement released this morning by Holy See Press Office director Matteo Bruni.
 
 

March 30, 10.52pm 

The daily rate of new cases of COVID19 infections in Italy recorded its sharpest drop today, rising by just 2.2% over the past 24 hours compared to a daily rate of increase of 5%-8% over the past week.

A total of 75,528 people are currently registered as having the virus in the country.  

Today's statistics also show the highest daily rate of recovery, with 1,590 more people getting better from the virus, up 12.2% from Sunday, to 14,620. 

The daily death rate is still high with 812 victims in the past 24 hours, and 3,981 people remain in intensive care, up 1.9% from the day before. 

 

March 30, 9.15pm

The Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI and all those living at his residence in the Vatican Gardens are well, in good spirits, and have full trust in the Lord, a source very close to the residence has told the Register. 

The source said all those at the Mater Ecclesiae Monastery are following closely the reported guidelines on account of the coronavirus pandemic, and living as if in a “lockdown cloister” but they had not lost their “calm and good spirits and have full trust in the Lord.” 

 

March 30, 8.48pm

The Vicar of Rome, Cardinal Angelo De Donatis, has tested positive for the coronavirus and hospitalised at Rome’s Gemelli hospital. 

“He has a fever, but his general condition is good, and has begun antiviral treatment,” the vicariate said in a statement, adding that his “closest associates” have put themselves in isolation as a precaution. 

"I'm also experiencing this trial, I feel calm and confident,” the cardinal said, adding that he is entrusting himself to the Lord and the prayerful support of the faithful. 

“I live this moment as an opportunity that Providence gives me to share the suffering of so many brothers and sisters,” he said. “I offer my prayer for them, for the whole diocesan community and for the inhabitants of the city of Rome.”

It’s not clear if Cardinal De Donatis, who is the Pope’s Vicar of Rome, met Pope Francis recently. 

Earlier this month the Pope asked him to close all of Rome’s churches before he changed his mind and had the cardinal reverse the decision the next day after criticisms from bishops and cardinals (the story can be found at the end of this blog post). 

 

March 30, 11.10am

Pope Francis today received in private audience Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte who is leading the Italian government's response to the coronavirus outbreak. Photos: Vatican Media:

 

March 29, 4pm

In his post-Angelus appeal today, Pope Francis joined the UN Secretary General, Antonio Guterres, in calling for a global ceasefire as the world faces the Covid-19 pandemic.

In his Angelus address, he called on Christians to take away the stones from their hearts, and let the Word of God restore life where there is death.

Some images of the Angelus, courtesy of Vatican Media:

March 28, 5.04pm

Holy See Press Office spokesman Matteo Bruni has issued a statement confirming reports that a person tested positive yesterday for the coronavirus in the Pope's Casa Santa Marta residence, saying the total number of people who have contracted the virus in the Vatican now totals 6.  

The statement reads:

“In recent days, as part of the checks carried out by the Health and Hygiene Directorate of the Vatican City State in compliance with the directives on the corona virus emergency, another individual has tested positive for Covid-19: an official of the Secretariat of State resident in Santa Marta who, showing some symptoms, was subsequently placed in isolation. 

At the moment his health condition is not particularly critical, but as a precautionary measure the person was admitted to a Roman hospital for observation, in close contact with the authorities of the Health and Hygiene Directorate.

Following the positive result, measures were taken according to the health protocols provided, both with regard to the hygiene of the environment, the place of work and residence of the person concerned, and with regard to the reconstruction of the contacts made in the days prior to the result. The health authorities carried out tests on the people in the closest contact with the person found to be positive. The results confirmed the absence of other positive cases among those residing in Casa Santa Marta, and positive results among the Holy See's employees in closer contact with the official.

As a precautionary measure, given this further finding, appropriate sanitation measures were taken and new tests were carried out, 170 in total including the previous ones, on the employees of the Holy See and the residents of the Domus. These latter tests all gave negative results.

The people affected by Covid-19 between employees of the Holy See and citizens of the Vatican City State are, therefore, currently 6.

I can confirm that neither the Holy Father nor his closest collaborators are involved.”

 

March 28, 4.30pm

The public cessation of the Mass and Holy Communion is “so unique and serious” that it could be understood as a “divine rebuke” for the past fifty years of Eucharistic desecration and triviliazation, Bishop Athanasius Schneider has said in a new interview.

 

March 27, 5.56pm

Il Messaggero is reporting that a second person from the Secretariat of State has been infected with the coronavirus, but the Pope is saying he  "will not move from Santa Marta." The Vatican has yet to comment on the report.

 

March 26, 1.10pm

Despite concerns about Pope Francis’ proximity to people who might be infected with the coronavirus, he has continued with meetings today, receiving four more people in private audience at his Santa Marta residence.

They were two prelates: Cardinal Robert Sarah, prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, and Archbishop Giacomo Morandi, Secretary at the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

He also met two laymen: Ambassador Juan Bosco Cayota Zappettini of Uruguay who made a farewell visit, and Professor Marco Impagliazza, president of the Sant’Egidio lay community.

Yesterday, it was reported that a Vatican official living in the Santa Marta residence was hospitalised after contracting the virus.

The Italian newspaper Il Fatto Quotidiano reported today that the Pope was tested negative for the virus after news of the official's infection. 

Four other people in the Vatican have also been tested positive for the virus this month. 

The Pope has so far decided to stay in Santa Marta rather than be fully quarantined or moved to a separate location. 

 

March 25, 5.45pm

President John Magufuli of Tanzania, a practicing Catholic, is resisting a global push to stop public Masses and close churches because of the coronavirus, saying on March 22 in St. Paul’s cathedral in the Tanzanian capital Dodoma:

“I insist upon you my fellow Christians and even moslems, do not be afraid, do not stop gathering yourself to glorify God and praise Him. That is why as government we didn't close down churches or mosques. Instead, they should be always open for the people to seek refuge to God. Churches are places where people could seek the true healing, because there the True God resides. Do not to be afraid of praising and seeking God's face in the Church.”

Referring to the Eucharist, he said: "The Coronavirus cannot survive in the Eucharistic body of Christ; it will soon be burnt away. That is exactly why I did not panic while taking the Holy Communion, because I knew, with Jesus in the Eucharist I am safe. This is the time of building our faith in God.”

The issue has divided the faithful around the world with some believing it is prudent and “pro-life” to enact these restrictions while others believing worship should always be allowed with reasonable constraints and measures, and the Church should not blindly follow state precepts.

 

March 25, 1.55pm

Cardinal Robert Sarah, prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, has issued the following updated decree regarding indications and suggestions concerning the liturgy in view of the coronavirus. Here below is the full text:  

 

DECREE

In time of Covid-19 (II)

Considering the rapidly evolving situation of the Covid-19 pandemic and taking into account observations which have come from Episcopal Conferences, this Congregation now offers an update to the general indications and suggestions already given to Bishops in the preceding decree of 19 March 2020.

Given that the date of Easter cannot be transferred, in the countries which have been struck by the disease and where restrictions around the assembly and movement of people have been imposed, Bishops and priests may celebrate the rites of Holy Week without the presence of the people and in a suitable place, avoiding concelebration and omitting the sign of peace.

The faithful should be informed of the beginning times of the celebrations so that they can prayerfully unite themselves in their homes. Means of live (not recorded) telematic broadcasts can be of help. In any event it remains important to dedicate an adequate time to prayer, giving importance above all to the Liturgia Horarum.

The Episcopal Conferences and individual dioceses will see to it that resources are provided to support family and personal prayer.

1 - Palm Sunday. The Commemoration of the Lord’s Entrance into Jerusalem is to be celebrated within sacred buildings; in Cathedral churches the second form given in the Roman Missal is to be adopted; in parish churches and in other places the third form is to be used.

2 – The Chrism Mass. Evaluating the concrete situation in different countries, the Episcopal Conferences will be able to give indications about a possible transfer to another date.

3 – Holy Thursday. The washing of feet, which is already optional, is to be omitted. At the end of the Mass of the Lord’s Supper the procession is also omitted and the Blessed Sacrament is to be kept in the tabernacle. On this day the faculty to celebrate Mass in a suitable place, without the presence of the people, is exceptionally granted to all priests.

4 – Good Friday. In the Universal Prayer, Bishops will arrange to have a special intention prepared for those who find themselves in distress, the sick, the dead, (cf. Missale Romanum). The adoration of the Cross by kissing it shall be limited solely to the celebrant.

5 – The Easter Vigil: Is to be celebrated only in Cathedral and parish churches. For the “Baptismal Liturgy” only the “Renewal of Baptismal Promises” is maintained (cf. Missale Romanum).

Seminaries, houses of clergy, monasteries and religious communities shall follow the indications of this decree.

Expressions of popular piety and processions which enrich the days of Holy Week and the Paschal Triduum can be transferred to other suitable days in the year, for example 14 and 15 September, according to the judgement of the Diocesan Bishop.

De mandato Summi Pontificis pro hoc tantum anno 2020.

From the offices of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, 25 March 2020, on the Solemnity of the Annunciation of the Lord.

Robert Card. Sarah
Prefect

 

March 25, 12.30pm

At noon today, Pope Francis prayed the Our Father together with Christian leaders and communities around the world for an end to the coronavirus.

The Pope announced the prayer after reciting the Angelus on Sunday, saying he wanted it to “unite our voices to beseech the Lord in these days of suffering, as the world is sorely tried by the pandemic. May the Lord, good and merciful, grant the concerted prayer of His children who, with trustful hope, turn to His omnipotence.”

Before the prayer today, the Pope gave these short words which were televised from the apostolic palace: 

“Dear brothers and sisters,

Today we have gathered together, all the Christians of the world, to pray together to the Our Father, the prayer that Jesus taught us.

As confident children we turn to the Father. We do it every day, several times a day; but right now we want to beg mercy for mankind so sorrily tried by the coronavirus pandemic. And we do it together, Christians of every Church and Community, every tradition, every age, language and nation.

We pray for the sick and their families; for healthcare providers and those who help them; for civil authorities, law enforcement agencies and volunteers; for the ministers of our communities.

Today many of us celebrate the Incarnation of the Word in the womb of the Virgin Mary, when her humble and total "Here I am" was reflected the "Here I am" of the Son of God. We, too, entrust ourselves with full trust into God's hands and with one heart and one soul we pray:

‘Our Father…’”

 

March 24, 7.17pm

Vatican spokesman Matteo Bruni has said a total of four people have tested positive with the coronavirus in the Vatican, including one previously reported. 

The new three cases are an employee of the merchandise office and two Vatican Museums staff. 

All four people have been “placed in isolation as a precautionary measure before they tested positive and their isolation has now lasted for over 14 days,” Bruni said. “They are currently being treated in Italian hospitals or at home.”

 

March 24, 4.20pm

The Vatican has announced it will continue to keep its offices open but reduce its staff levels to help prevent the spread of COVID19.

In a statement released this afternoon, the Vatican said those in charge of dicasteries “are entrusted with the task of continuing to provide essential services to the universal Church.” They are also to “arrange for a minimum number of staff in the office and encourage, as far as possible, remote work, so as to limit the movements of employees and at the same time guarantee the exercise of the Petrine ministry.”

The statement adds: “In the event of contact between employees of the Holy See or citizens of Vatican City State with the coronavirus, the Health and Hygiene Department has prepared a protocol for the timely communication of cases to the health authorities of the place of residence and to those of Vatican City State.”

 

March 23, 1.10pm

The Vatican has announced that owing to the "ongoing world situation," Pope Francis' May 31 trip to Malta has been postponed to a future date. 

 

March 23, 10.46am 

Seminarians at the North American College in Rome have been told they have until the end of this week to return home. Many have already left and as of last week about half of the seminarians were still at the College.

Classes stopped after pontifical universities closed on March 5 in an attempt to prevent spread of the virus.

“We made this decision for their safety,” said NAC rector Father Peter Harman, “thinking that being in smaller groups at home would be safer than one large campus, not being able to assure direct health care here for the indefinite future.”

He said all the seminarians remain healthy but the NAC “would rather undergo this convenience than jeopardize their health.” 

Father Harman said the seminarians will be placed in a 14-day quarantine while home and their studies “will continue by the various methods that the individual universities have established, varying from on-line courses to written papers.  

“There are a few students who cannot make it home or have a place to be quarantined,” he added. “They will remain with most of the faculty.”

 


March 22, 6.50pm

Through the website Corrispondenza RomanaAlexander Tschugguel, the young Austrian who threw the Pachamama statues into the Tiber during the Amazon synod last October, has released the following message. For the past two weeks he has been hospitalized and suffering quite badly from the coronavirus:

Dear friends and supporters,

Many thanks for all of your prayers and your encouragement in recent days. It is now the 15th day of my illness and I am slowly on the path to recovery. The virus strikes much harder than expected and it strikes people of all ages. Now we must learn to confront it, which means understanding that God requires sacrifice from each of us. And during this Lent he is asking more from us than usual. Today we must contain ourselves a lot and know how to renounce many things and do penance for all of the evil things in the world, and especially for all of the evil things that have happened within the Church. God, in his immense Providence, has placed these limitations on us, and we must see them as a Cross that we must carry, above all for those for whom the virus was lethal, for all the families that have been destroyed, for all of the aborted babies, for the destruction of our homelands. For all of this suffering, we must now sacrifice our freedom, our prosperity and our usual way of life. Let’s do it together as believers. We can be certain that God will never deceive or disappoint us. 

As soon as I am well, I will make a video about this virus and I will tell you how it makes you feel and what it does to you.

Cordial greetings, and may God bless us,

Alexander Tschugguel

 

Sunday, March 22

Pope Francis has called on all Christian leaders and every Christian community around the world to recite the Our Father at noon on Wednesday, the Feast of the Annunciation, as “humanity trembles at the threat” of the coronavirus pandemic “in these days of trial.” 

Addressing the faithful through the media from the apostolic palace after reciting the Angelus today, the Pope said that as the prayer will take place “on the day when many Christians remember the annunciation to the Virgin Mary of the Incarnation of the Word, may the Lord hear the unanimous prayer of all his disciples preparing to celebrate the victory of the Risen Christ.”

Pope Francis will also preside over moment of prayer at the sagrato in front of St. Peter’s basilica at 6pm on Friday March 27 where “we will listen to the Word of God, we will raise our supplication, we will adore the Blessed Sacrament.”

The Pope said that at the end he will give his Urbi et Orbi blessing (to the city and to the world) “to which will be attached the possibility of receiving a plenary indulgence.” 

The Holy Father, who usually only gives the Urbi et Orbi blessing at Christmas and Easter, said the prayer and blessing will be televised as the square will be empty owing to the current lockdown.

“We want to respond to the pandemic of the virus with the universality of prayer, of compassion, of tenderness,” the Pope said.

“Let us remain united. Let us make our closeness felt to the loneliest and those most tried,” he added, to “doctors, health workers, nurses, volunteers... Our closeness to the authorities who must take hard measures, but for our own good. Our closeness to the policemen, to the soldiers on the street who always try to keep order, so that the things that the government asks us to do for the good of all of us are done. Closeness to everyone.”

The Pope closed by inviting the faithful to read Chapter 9 of the Gospel of John (the Gospel reading today was from John 9:1-41)  “calmly and slowly.” 

“I will do it as well,” he said. “It will do all of us good.” 

 

March 22, 12.20am

Italy’s Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte has said the coronavirus is “the most difficult crisis that the country has experienced since the end of World War II” and that the “deaths of so many fellow citizens is a pain that is renewed every day.” 

In a television address to the nation this evening, Conte announced that the government will shut down for 15  days  “all production facilities that are not strictly necessary, crucial, indispensable to guarantee essential goods.”

His address came after the daily death toll from the virus reached a record 793 people. 

He said all supermarkets and food shops and those providing basic necessities will remain open. 

"I encourage everyone to maintain the greatest calm,” he said. “There is no reason to run to the shops. Pharmacies and all essential services will be open” and “transportation will continue.”

 

March 21, 4.20pm

“We cannot simply accept the determinations of secular governments, which would treat the worship of God in the same manner as going to a restaurant or to an athletic contest,” Cardinal Raymond Burke has said in a personal message to the faithful on the coronavirus.

“We bishops and priests need to explain publicly the necessity of Catholics to pray and worship in their churches and chapels, and to go in procession through the streets and ways, asking God’s blessing upon His people who suffer so intensely.”

See the full message here.

 

March 20, 7pm

A total of 59 women religious in Rome have been tested positive for the coronavirus and have been placed in isolation, the magazine Wanted in Rome reports

Quoting reports from Italian news agency ANSA, the magazine said the first convent to be locked down is the Figlie di S. Camillo at Grottaferrata, in the Castelli Romani about 14 miles from Rome.

The second convent to be sealed off is the Congregation of the Angelic Sisters of St. Paul on Rome's Via Casilina, where 19 of the convent's 21 nuns tested positive.

 

March 20, 4.10pm

In a second of two decrees, the Apostolic Penitentiary today ruled that in view of the difficulty in priests hearing confessions during the coronavirus pandemic, bishops can offer general absolution in cases of “grave necessity”. 

The decree, signed by Major Penitentiary Cardinal Mauro Piacenza, notes that general absolution is usually only permitted in accordance with canon 961 – when there is an “imminent danger of death, since there is not enough time to hear the confessions of individual penitents,” or there is a “grave necessity.” 

The decree then stresses in italics: 

“This Apostolic Penitentiary believes that, especially in the places most affected by the pandemic contagion and until the phenomenon recedes, cases of grave necessity mentioned in can. 961, § 2 CIC [in cases of grave necessity] will occur.”

It adds that “any further specification is delegated by law to diocesan bishops, always taking into account the supreme good of the salvation of souls.” 

The decree continues: 

“Should there arise a sudden need to impart sacramental absolution to several faithful together, the priest is obliged to forewarn the diocesan bishop as far as possible or, if he cannot, to inform him as soon as possible (cf. Ordo Paenitentiae, n. 32).”

Regarding individual confession, it goes on to state that “in the present pandemic emergency,” it is “up to the diocesan bishop to indicate to priests and penitents the prudent attentions to be adopted in the individual celebration of sacramental reconciliation, such as the celebration in a ventilated place outside the confessional, the adoption of a suitable distance, the use of protective masks, without prejudice to absolute attention to the safeguarding of the sacramental seal and necessary discretion.

It adds: 

“Furthermore, it is always up to the diocesan bishop to determine, in the territory of his own ecclesiastical circumscription and with regard to the level of pandemic contagion, the cases of grave necessity in which it is lawful to impart collective absolution: for example, at the entrance to hospital wards, where the infected faithful in danger of death are hospitalised, using as far as possible and with the appropriate precautions the means of amplifying the voice so that absolution may be heard.”

It adds that consideration should be given to the “need and advisability of setting up, where necessary, in agreement with the health authorities, groups of ‘extraordinary hospital chaplains,’ also on a voluntary basis and in compliance with the norms of protection from contagion, to guarantee the necessary spiritual assistance to the sick and dying.”

“Where the individual faithful find themselves in the painful impossibility of receiving sacramental absolution, it should be remembered that perfect contrition, coming from the love of God, beloved above all things, expressed by a sincere request for forgiveness (that which the penitent is at present able to express) and accompanied by votum confessionis, that is, by the firm resolution to have recourse, as soon as possible, to sacramental confession, obtains forgiveness of sins, even mortal ones (cf. CCC, no. 1452)”

 

March 20, 12.33pm

The Apostolic Penitentiary has issued a decree granting special indulgences to the faithful at this time of pandemic. 

Signed on March 19, the Feast of St. Joseph, by Major Penitentiary Cardinal Mauro Piacenza, the decree states that:

“The Plenary Indulgence is granted to the faithful suffering from the Coronavirus, subject to quarantine by order of the health authority in hospitals or in their own homes if, with a spirit detached from any sin, they unite themselves spiritually through the media to the celebration of Holy Mass, to the recitation of the Holy Rosary, to the pious practice of the Way of the Cross or other forms of devotion, or if at least they will recite the Creed, the Lord's Prayer and a pious invocation to the Blessed Virgin Mary, offering this trial in a spirit of faith in God and charity towards their brothers and sisters, with the will to fulfil the usual conditions (sacramental confession, Eucharistic communion and prayer according to the Holy Father's intentions), as soon as possible.”

Cardinal Piacenza adds that the same gift of Plenary Indulgence will be given “under the same conditions” to:

“Health care workers, family members and all those who, following the example of the Good Samaritan, exposing themselves to the risk of contagion, care for the sick of Coronavirus according to the words of the divine Redeemer.“No man has greater love than this: to give his life for his friends” (Jn 15:13).” 

He adds that the decree also “willingly grants” the Plenary Indulgence under the same conditions to:

“Those faithful who offer a visit to the Blessed Sacrament, or Eucharistic Adoration, or the reading of Sacred Scripture for at least half an hour, or the recitation of the Holy Rosary, or the pious exercise of the Way of the Cross, or the recitation of the Chaplet of Divine Mercy, to implore from Almighty God the end of the epidemic, relief for those who are afflicted and the eternal salvation of those whom the Lord has called to Himself.”

The decree continues: 

“The Church prays for those who are unable to receive the Sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick and the Viaticum, entrusting each and every one of them to Divine Mercy by virtue of the communion of saints and granting the faithful a Plenary Indulgence on the point of death, provided that they are duly disposed and have recited a few prayers during their lifetime (in this case the Church makes up for the three usual conditions required). For the attainment of this indulgence the use of the crucifix or the cross is recommended (cf. Enchiridion indulgentiarum, n.12).”

The decree ends by invoking the "Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of God and of the Church, Health of the Sick and Help of Christians, our Advocate, to help suffering humanity, rejecting from us the evil of this pandemic and obtaining for us every good necessary for our salvation and sanctification.” 

Cardinal Piacenza begins the decree by noting that the “whole of humanity” is “threatened by an invisible and insidious disease which for some time now has become part of everyone's life” and is “marked day after day by anguished fears, new uncertainties and above all widespread physical and moral suffering.”

He adds: “The Church, following the example of her Divine Master, has always cared for the sick. As Saint John Paul II indicated, the value of human suffering is twofold: "It is supernatural, because it is rooted in the divine mystery of the world's redemption, and it is also profoundly human, because in it man finds himself, his humanity, his dignity, his mission" (Apostolic Letter Salvifici Doloris, 31).”

 

March 20, 11.19am

“A tragedy within a tragedy,” is how Il Giornale is describing it as another three priests are reported to have died in Bergamo — one of the northern Italian cities hardest hit by the coronavirus. 

So far, 13 priests have died in Bergamo including Don Vincenzo Rini, a popular figure in bishops’ conference-run media. Another 15 are recovering in hospital with 2-3 in intensive care, Don Roberto Trussardi, director of Caritas in Bergamo, told InBlu Radio, the bishops’ conference radio station. 

“It was a drama and a tragedy to see the army trucks take away more than 60 coffins because the crematorium could not keep up with all the deaths,” Don Trussardi said. “It’s really a tragedy,” he added. “Also yesterday there were so many deaths and infections. We hope that this awful situation will be resolved.”

Pope Francis called Bergamo’s Bishop Francesco Beschi on Wednesday to offer his consolation and encouragement. 

Meanwhile, La Nazione newspaper is reporting that a total of 30 Italian priests have died mostly because of the coronavirus, including the 13 in Bergamo. 

The newspaper reports that four very old priests died in Parma but also a younger one, Don Andrea Avanzini, who was 55 and probably infected by his elderly mother whom he lived with. It also reports that four other priests died in Piacenza although only one of them had been diagnosed with the coronavirus.

The bishop of nearby Cremona, Antonio Napolioni, has recovered from the virus and been discharged from hospital. 

 

March 19, 1.53pm

Cardinal Jean-Claude Hollerich of Luxembourg has been placed in quarantine after an employee of the archdiocese tested positive for the virus, ACIStampa reports.

Cardinal Hollerich, a Jesuit whom Pope Francis elevated to the College of Cardinals last October, also serves as president of the Commission of Bishops’ Conferences in the European Union (COMECE).

He told a journalist on the phone that he would like to see more solidarity among European nations to deal with the crisis, and stressed the importance of keeping churches open at this time. 

 

March 19, 1.20pm

San Marcello al Corso, the church where Pope Francis prayed on Sunday at the foot of a Miraculous Crucifix that, in 1522, protected Rome from the Great Plague, is closed to the public due to a March 12 decree issued by Vicariate of Rome closing all non-parish churches, the journalist Diane Montagna has tweeted after confirming it with the church.

The Vicariate had changed an earlier decree to allow parish and mission churches in Rome to remain open last week, but not non-parish ones and religious houses which remain inaccessible to the public or those not permanently resident.  (Photo: Vatican Media)

 

March 19, 1.12pm

Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte has said the lockdown in the country will be extended beyond April 3, ANSA reports.

In an interview with Corriere della Sera, Conte said the measures were working, but that even when the epidemic starts falling from its peak, “we won’t be able to return to life as it was before.” 

He urged all Italians to show “common sense” and stay at home apart from grocery shopping or the need for medicines, or going to work if they have to.  

 

March 19, 12.55pm

An Iranian Ayatollah has called on Pope Francis to try to persuade the United States to lift its embargo on Iran as the Middle East country grapples with the coronavirus.

Ayatollah Mohaghegh Damad, who is well known in the Holy See on account of his interreligious dialogue efforts, sent a letter to the Pope describing the suffering of children and the elderly, the Italian newspaper Il Messaggero reported today.

He wrote that the suffering is being “amplified” by US sanctions in the country which has the third highest number of cases of the virus after China and Italy, and that they are having a “direct impact” on the welfare of ordinary Iranian people, their “natural rights,” and their right to defend themselves.

 

March 19, 9am

Today during Mass, Pope Francis invited those who could not receive Holy Communion to make an act of spiritual communion.

He also prayed for those in prison but focused primarily on St. Joseph whose feast day is today. St. Joseph was a “just man” not only because he believed but because he had faith, the Pope said. He also said St. Joseph was capable of entering into God’s mystery, and did so with the same precision and naturalness with which he approached his carpentry.  

 

March 18, 10.36pm

Pope Francis joined the Italian bishops today in promoting a moment of prayer for the whole country in light of the current health emergency.

Speaking at his weekly general audience televised from the apostolic palace, the Pope said he invited “every family, every faithful, every religious community” to recite the Rosary with the Mysteries of Light tomorrow, the Feast of St. Joseph, at 9pm local time. 

“We are led to the luminous and transfigured face of Jesus Christ and His Heart by Mary, Mother of God, health of the sick, to whom we turn with the prayer of the Rosary, under the loving gaze of Saint Joseph, Guardian of the Holy Family and of our families,” the Pope said. 

“And we ask him to take special care of our family, our families, especially the sick and the people who are taking care of them: doctors, nurses, and volunteers, who risk their lives in this service.”

 

March 18, 10.11pm

Italian authorities recorded 475 deaths from the coronavirus over the past 24 hours, the largest daily rise and up from 345 recorded the day before. A total of 2,978 people have so far died from the virus in the country. 

In the province of Rome, a total of 590 cases have been recorded. In the Lazio region in which Rome is located, there have been 32 deaths from the virus. The number of cases has more than quadrupled in a week in the province of Rome despite the lockdown imposed on March 10. 

Meanwhile, a study by the country’s national health authority released today showed that more than 99% of Italy’s coronavirus fatalities have been people who suffered from previous medical conditions. 

 

March 18, 11.31am

Pope Francis has given a short telephone interview to La Repubblica newspaper about the coronavirus, urging people not to waste these difficult days but use them to show closeness and affection to family and friends. 

“We must rediscover the concreteness of little things, small gestures of attention we can offer those close to us, our family, our friends,” he said. “We must understand that in small things lies our treasure.”

He pointed out that often today we only communicate virtually and families often eat together in silence looking “like monks, all isolated from each other.” He urged people to listen to one another and so understand each other’s “needs, efforts and desires” and to stay close to those who have lost loved ones.

The Pope also said he was impressed by a recent La Repubblica article whose author argued that those who don’t pay taxes commit a felony as it would be their fault if there are not enough hospital beds and artificial respirators. 

Francis said a person who doesn’t have faith can find strength in love for their family members, and find hope in the love of people around him. 

Asked what he prayed for in the two Roman churches he visited on Sunday, he said: “I asked the Lord to stop the epidemic: Lord, stop it with your hand. That’s what I prayed for.”

 

March 16, 11.16pm

Singing and playing music from balconies for isolated neighbors has become a special Italian tradition during this lockdown, and the Romans are no different. 

In one Rome suburb, Thelma Cesarano, who runs a PR agency, has created an “alternative jukebox” where she and a friend take requests from neighbors and play the music on an amplifier. 

“Yesterday we received 63 messages,” Cesarano told Leggo newspaper, adding that the music is played one hour in the morning and one hour in the early evening. “There are about eighty people looking at us,” she said. 

The requests come from all ages and they “only ever prefer Italian music and are happy to hear it go out into the air at the indicated times,” Cesarano said. 

Although she has received a few complaints, Cesarano said it has overall helped build a “real community spirit that we have lost after years of frenetic routine and virtual relationships.”

“Until a few days ago, at most we exchanged a ‘good morning’ with the neighbours and nothing with the most distant, but now we smile and send greetings and kisses from balcony to balcony.” She also said there are “many old people who live alone and wave to us.”

Today they planned on making announcements, asking if anyone who cannot go out needs something from the pharmacy or groceries.

The lockdown has brought many severe drawbacks for most people, not least depriving the faithful of the Mass and harming businesses, but Romans say it has also prompted people to be more sociable, rebuild communities, bring families back together, and reduce bustle and noise — so much so, one can even hear the birds sing again.

 

March 16, 10.25pm

Over the past 24 hours there were 349 more deaths from the coronavirus in Italy, slightly down from 368 the day before, but still one of the highest daily numbers so far. Currently a total of 2,158 people have died from the virus in Italy out of a total of 27,980 registered cases. 

In Rome and its Lazio region there were 52 new cases over the past 24 hours, making a total of 412 cases and 19 deaths

 

March 16, 3.20pm

Italy’s Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte warned on Monday that his country was entering “the riskiest weeks” and urged a coordinated European response to the coronavirus pandemic, AFP/The Local reported.

Speaking ahead of a planned videoconference between the Group of Seven, he said Italy could offer a “significant contribution” having been the first to have dealt with such a wide spread of the virus. 

The Italian government also said today it would be giving hospital staff tending to coronavirus patients salary bonuses.

A main reason for the nationwide lockdown is to prevent the nation’s respected yet fragile healthcare from collapsing, and the government is particularly concerned that the disease might spread to the poorer south where the nation’s healthcare is not so well resourced. 

 

March 16, 1.53pm

Despite the coronavirus, Pope Francis is continuing with hold private audiences, today meeting Cardinal Kevin Farrell, prefect of the Dicastery for Laity, Family and Life; Cardinal Beniamino Stella, prefect of the Congregation for Clergy; Paolo Ruffini, prefect of the Dicastery for Communications; and Cardinal Giuseppe Betori, Archbishop of Florence. 

Last week, the Pope met French bishops on their ad limina visit, one of whom was Bishop Emmanuel Delmas of Angers who has since been tested positive for the Coronavirus. 

Bishop Delmas was in Rome March 9-13 along with about thirty of his brother bishops from Western France. The Italian website Corrispondenza Romana reported March 15 that according to the French newspaper Courrier de L’Ouest, each of the bishops who came to Rome are “now in strict isolation.” 

 

March 15, 7.43pm 

The rector of the church of San Marcello al Corso, Father Enrico Casini, confirmed to EWTN that the Pope stopped in silent and private prayer for a few minutes in front of the Miraculous Crucifix. Afterwards he prayed in front of the church's statue of Saint Joseph. The whole community of the church was present including Father Enrico who reiterated how important the Crucifix is for the Romans.

 

March 15, 7.35pm

“In this pandemic situation, in which we find ourselves living more or less isolated, we are invited to rediscover and deepen the value of the communion which unites all members of the Church,” Pope Francis said at the end of his Angelus address today.

“United with Christ we are never alone, but we form a single Body, of which He is the Head,” he said, and highly recommended the practice of spiritual communion when it is not possible to receive the Sacrament.  “I say this for everyone, especially for people who live alone,” he said. 

See Hannah Brockhaus' CNA report here.

 

March 15, 6.50pm 

The Vatican has said Pope Francis visited the basilica of St. Mary Major this afternoon to pray to the Virgin, Salus populi Romani, whose icon is kept and venerated there.

“Afterwards, he went as a pilgrim on foot to the church of San Marcello al Corso on Via del Corso, where the miraculous Crucifix is located that in 1522 was processed through the city's quarters to end the ‘Great Plague’ in Rome,” the Holy See Press Office said.

“With his prayer, the Holy Father invoked an end to the pandemic that has struck Italy and the world, implored healing for the many sick, remembe