At least ten priests have died from the new coronavirus in Italy — six of whom hail from Pope St. John XXIII’s hometown of Bergamo in Lombardy.
The bishop of Bergamo in northern Italy said at least 20 priests in his diocese had been hospitalized after contracting the new coronavirus.
“The number of priests who have died this week and that of those who are still in a particularly serious situation is very high,” Catholic News Agency (CNA) cites Bishop Francesco Beschi of Bergamo as telling InBlu Radio on March 16.
“We are living this pain by sharing it with that of our communities together with the number of infected people, the sick and a high number of deaths. We are not separated from our community even in the passage of death,” Bishop Breschi said.
The previous day, the bishop noted the high death toll had resulted from the priests willingness to suffer with the sick.
“Our priests are many, and numerous are those who have exposed themselves [to the virus] to be close to their community,” Crux cites Bishop Breschi as telling the Italian TV news network Rainews24 on March 15.
“Their illness is an evident sign of closeness, a painful sign of closeness and sharing in the suffering.”
Included among the dead from Bergamo are Father Silano Sirtoli, 59, and Father Giancarlo Nava, 70.
Three priests from the Brescia Diocese, west of Verona, were also reported dead, CNA reports, citing ACI Stampa.
They were: Father Angelo Cretti, Father Diego Gabusi, and 74-year-old Father Giovanni Girelli.
A priest from the Cremona Diocese, Monsignor Vincenzo Rini, also passed away on March 14.
Italy has been hit harder than any other European nation by the coronavirus pandemic. The country’s death toll from the virus was 2,158 as of March 17, with 27,980 infections recorded.
The pope, the Vatican, and the Church in predominantly Catholic Italy have all been forced to modify centuries of tradition because of the outbreak.
On March 15, The pope left the Vatican unannounced to pray at the Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore and then walked along one of Rome’s main streets to visit St. Marcello Church to pray before a crucifix that was used in a procession when the plague hit Rome in 1522.
A Vatican statement said he prayed for an end to the pandemic and also for the sick, their families and health providers and workers keeping pharmacies and food stores open amid a national lockdown.