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In Italy 109 priests have died of coronavirus

Giuseppe Berardelli

Oratorio Casnigo | Facebook | Fair Use

Father Giuseppe Berardelli, 72, of Casnigo, Italy.

John Burger - published on 04/15/20

During a Holy Thursday Mass, Pope Francis honored the priests as “the saints next door.”

An estimated 109 priests in Italy have died of COVID-19, many of them having contracted the disease from patients they have ministered to.

According to the New York Times, priests and religious, ”especially in deeply infected areas like Bergamo, are risking, and sometimes giving, their lives to attend to the spiritual needs of the often older and devout Italians hardest hit by the virus.”

The Diocese of Bergamo alone lost 24 priests in 20 days. About half the priests were retired, half still active. Those who are still alive and ministering to the sick, the Times reported, ”complain they cannot get closer, that the last touch the faithful feel is a gloved one, that the last face they see is often on [the screen  of a cell  phone]. With a virus that separates families and spouses as it kills, priests said that they were also pained to be distanced from their flock when they were needed most.”

“Numerous are those who have exposed themselves [to the virus] to be close to their community,” said the bishop of Bergamo, Francesco Beschi. “Their illness is an evident sign of closeness, a painful sign of closeness and sharing in the suffering.”

During a Holy Thursday Mass, Pope Francis honored the priests as “the saints next door.”

Some of the priests who have died so far include:

  • Fr. Enrico Bernuzzi, 46, of the Diocese of Tortona, who died at dawn on Easter Monday. A priest since 2006, he was the second youngest priest in Italy to die from the infection: Fr. Alessandro Brignone of the diocese of Salerno-Campagna-Acerno, who died on March 19, was one year younger.
  • Fr. Fausto Resmini, 67, chaplain of Bergamo’s prison for nearly 30 years and the founder of a center for troubled youth. He died March 23 after catching  the virus in the course of his ministry. Local residents are trying to name a new field hospital after him, the Times reported.
  • Fr. Marcello Balducci of Pesaro, 61, who continued to help out in the cathedral, offering spiritual guidance or material help, until he contracted the virus and died.
  • Fr. Giuseppe Berardelli, 72, who died earlier this month in Lovere, Bergamo.

Avvenire, the official newspaper of the Italian bishops, identified several common features among the priests who died, including their popularity.

“Most of the priests died by becoming infected because they remained in the midst of the people rather than thinking about saving themselves. They tended to stay in a community for long periods of time, serving as the “custodian of shared memory, a participant in the passage of witness and values ​​between generations,” the newspaper said.

The clerics had a “precious presence that people discover to be indispensable, especially when the forced distance — or death — deprive them of a person who is always dear, close, available,” Avvenire said.

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