Sister Angel Bipendu told CNA Tuesday that the call she received on Holy Saturday claiming to be from Pope Francis thanking her for her medical treatment of coronavirus patients was a prank call.
“It was a joke unfortunately. They are investigating,” Bipendu told CNA April 14. She said that she found out the call was a prank on the afternoon of April 13.
Dr. Bipendu, a member of the Sisters of the Redeemer, has been working on the front line of Italy’s coronavirus crisis in Lombardy as part of a special care unit making home visits to people with COVID-19 symptoms in full protective gear.
After the Easter Vigil on April 11, Bipendu answered the phone at the emergency medical service in Villa d’Almè to an unexpected voice.
“I am calling from Vatican City, I would like to thank all of you and Sister Bipendu for what you are doing,” the person on the phone said.
To which the sister responded: “This is she, but … are you Pope Francis?”
“It is I, I would like to compliment you for what you do, also for your testimony of faith,” the person said, adding that he would like to see her after the pandemic.
Bipendu told CNA she realized it was a prank call Monday afternoon after receiving a call from a colleague. “Checking the number I realized it was the same number which had called me Saturday evening.”
Speaking with the colleague, he told her he lost his cellphone Friday evening and he did not have it Saturday evening. He said he found it Sunday and was looking at what calls were made on it.
“Things are not going well for me, let’s see, they are making a little investigation,” the sister said.
Fr. Giorgio Carobbio, head of Almè Oratory, who previously spoke with CNA on April 13 about the call said that he found out it was a prank call on the morning of April 14.
“I also found out this morning. Sister Angel said it was a prank,” Carobbio said.
Bipendu, originally from the Democratic Republic of Congo, studied medicine in Palermo, and has lived in Italy for 16 years. She formerly served migrants on an Italian Rescue Corps of the Order of Malta rescue vessel in the Mediterreanean.
“When I do my job as a doctor and I visit the patients, at first they look at me a little surprised, they can see that I am not a traditional doctor. I let them have that, and then I introduce myself, I tell them I am not only a doctor but a nun, and their attitude changes in a positive way,” Bipendu told AFP.
More than half of the 20,465 coronavirus fatalities documented by Italy’s Ministry of Health have been in the northern Italian region of Lombardy, where Bipendu is working.
In the Diocese of Bergamo in Lombardy, 25 priests have died after contracting COVID-19.
With more than 100,000 people currently infected with the coronavirus in Italy, the country will remain under a national lockdown until at least May 3.
Throughout Holy Week, Pope Francis repeatedly expressed his gratitude to medical workers and religious serving the suffering.
In his Regina Coeli address on April 13, Pope Francis recognized women working in the medical field to serve others during the health crisis.
“Today I would like to recall with you what many women do, even during this health crisis, to take care of others: women doctors, nurses, law enforcement officers and prison officers, employees of shops for basic necessities,” Pope Francis said.
This article was updated April 14 after Sister Angel Bipendu said she was the victim of a prank.