Day broke early in Rome, and at a few minutes before 9am Rome time there was a brilliant sun already high in a cloudless sky: a promising start to a day Rome’s Cardinal Vicar, Angelo De Donatis, has marked as one of prayer and fasting for relief from the coronavirus epidemic, the grip of which the whole country is feeling.
Cardinal De Donatis will be saying Mass at 7pm this evening Rome time, in the old basilica at the Sanctuary of the Madonna del Divino Amore in Castel di Leva, on what are now the southern outskirts of Rome, just on the far side of the Roman beltway.
Cardinal De Donatis will be celebrating without the faithful. There is a government decree in place prohibiting large public gatherings, and Church authorities have suspended liturgical celebrations involving the faithful. That liturgy — and others, including Pope Francis’s daily Mass in the chapel of the Domus Sanctae Marthae — are being broadcast over television and streaming.
In addition, Cardinal De Donatis will be praying the Angelus daily, starting today — Sundays excepted, for that is when Pope Francis leads the traditional noonday prayer of Marian devotion — and for the rest of the week.
At Mass on Tuesday morning, Pope Francis encouraged priests to fearless solicitude for the sick, calling on them not to hesitate to bring the Sacraments to those most in need of them. Journalists asked the Holy See press office director, Matteo Bruni, how that squared with the government’s containment directives.
“Clearly,” Bruni responded, Pope Francis intended his encouragement “in keeping with the sanitary measures established by Italian authorities.” Those measures include being about town for work, and it’s hard to argue it isn’t their job to bring sick people the Sacraments.
The Vatican has also announced further steps to bring its response measures further into line with Italian dispositions. St Peter’s Square has been closed to the public, essentially cutting off access to St Peter’s Basilica, and the jumbotrons in the square will not be carrying the General Audience.
It’s also worth mentioning that the two Vatican offices chiefly responsible for managing real estate have said they are entertaining requests for relief from merchant-tenants hard-hit by the downturn in trade as a result of the emergency.
“The Administration of the Patrimony of the Apostolic See (APSA) and the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples,” a statement sent to journalists from the Holy See press office on Tuesday reads, “responsible for the management of the buildings belonging to the Holy See, are available to accept requests for temporary reduction of commercial lease payments.”
The statement goes on to say, “The decision was taken in consideration of the situations of particular economic suffering that merchants face, as a consequence of the measures issued by the Italian authorities to stem the spread of COVID-19.”
The Italian government has already taken similar steps, which cover commercial rent and some mortgage payments. The EU has provided a €25 billion emergency fund.
Churches, meanwhile, remain open outside of Mass. The pastor of this journalist’s parish has encouraged the faithful to visit for private devotions and to ask for Communion whenever they are disposed.
Here’s the Coronavirus outbreak in Italy, by the numbers: 10,149 confirmed cases as of Tuesday evening, with 631 confirmed dead from the virus. 831 people suffering from the virus are in intensive care. 1,004 people have got sick and recovered. The number of dead increased by 168 between Monday and Tuesday, while the number of current cases grew from 7,985 to 8,514: a little over 6.6 per cent growth from one day to the next.
Between Sunday and Monday, the number of current cases jumped from 6,387 to 7,985, while the confirmed death toll climbed by 97 from Monday to Tuesday: from 266 to 363.
Italy’s civil protection service makes data available on a dedicated website.
What fine story the numbers tell depends on how one crunches them, but the basic outline is of an entire country in the grip of a major health crisis that will not be resolved anytime soon.
The approach to containment is typically Italian — and frankly ingenious: movement is restricted into and out of municipalities, cities, provinces and regions; within the same, movement is restricted to necessity; however, citizens may self-certify they need to be about.
On paper, police have power to order people indoors and even to arrest those discovered about town absent legitimate purpose, but that’s the last thing authorities want to see happening on a mass scale, and everyone knows it. Still, it is difficult if not impossible to recall a peacetime restriction of movement on this scale in any free society at any time.
There was some panic buying reported in Rome’s few 24-hour grocery stores just after Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte on Monday evening announced the extension of emergency measures up and down the Italian peninsula and islands, and incidents reported at prisons where inmates — who are especially at risk due to their close quarters — were unhappy to learn their day-release programmes were cancelled.
Pope Francis offered his Wednesday morning Mass especially for prisoners. “In a special way I would like to pray for those who are in prison,” calling them “our brothers and sisters”. He went on to say, “They suffer, and we must be near to them with our prayer so that the Lord might console them.”
Parents of school-age children are doing their best to maintain a semblance of normal order and keep spirits afloat, while they wait to hear whether lessons will resume on April 3 after their suspension earlier this month.
This journalist’s daughter is set on participating in a grassroots morale booster about which she heard through the chat group for her class, which involves painting and hanging a sign declaring Andrà tutto bene! — “It’s going to be all right!” or “All shall be well!” — along with the go-to Italian exhortations, Forza! and Coraggio!
It’s something to do for an hour or so, and it means this fellow gets to go to the shops for art supplies — and have a gander. It’s the job.