There’s an strong army on the frontlines of the battle against the coronavirus pandemic: it is the discreet, almost invisible, army of nuns.

Whether they are nurses or cloistered religious, whether they look after the poorest or come to the aid of the families of those affected by the disease, they all carry two powerful weapons: prayer and love.

A clear example, among many of those that could be narrated, is that of the Daughters of St. Camillus.

Throughout Italy they manage five hospitals, in Rome, Trento, Treviso, Brescia and Cremona. In those last three hospices the sisters attend to those infected with COVID-19, a highly dangerous battleground.

Ready to give their lives for others

“In all our hospitals there are sister-nurses who in this period risk their lives with self-denial”, explains Sister Lancy Ezhupara, director of the Hospital San Camilo de Treviso and secretary general of the order.

But she and her sisters are not afraid. On the contrary:

“We, the Daughters of Saint Camillus, make a fourth vow, in addition to the three classic vows of poverty, obedience and chastity: that of serving the sick even at the cost of our lives.

“Perhaps in years past, for many of us, the fourth vow had become a little fuzzy, but today it has returned in force and has regained all its timeliness.

“In our hospital in Treviso there are more than a hundred beds to receive patients, but the difficulties are innumerable, because there is a shortage of healthcare equipment.

“But we, as a Church, as religious and as individuals, certainly won’t give up”, explains Sister Lancy, who finds comfort in the reaction of her fellow religious, willing to do anything to be close to those who suffer:

“Their total availability moves me deeply. They are aware that they might die, but I repeat: we find strength in prayer, in the intercession of St. Camillus and in our fourth vow”.

Prayer, a winning weapon

The other essential battleground for victory is that of constant prayer.

Here too, from Aosta to Palermo, the nuns are on the front line. There are those who pray the rosary with megaphones from on the balconies of their monasteries, those who mobilise social networks to share novenas and prayers, and those who, in the solitude of their enclosure, have multiplied their sacrifices and mortifications.

In Bergamo, one of the places most affected by the pandemic, is the Benedictine monastery of Santa Grata. The superior is Sister Maria Teresa, and she points out that despite the cloister “we have internet and television and therefore we know the current pain in the world”.

And precisely at this unfortunate moment, the cloistered nuns have intensified their invocations: “Indeed, if this is the word, we are immersed in a real marathon of prayers”, says Sister Maria Teresa.

“They ask us from all over the world and we have gladly armed ourselves. with rosaries, novenas and ‘Credi’, an ancient prayer, a tradition of our monastery, that our ancestors used in times of calamity”.

In addition to prayer there is closeness, the sharing of pain.

“All the sisters are in telephone contact with the health personnel of the city hospital, which is collapsing: they tell us first hand about the tragedy unfolding”, reveals Sister María Teresa.

“We do our part without forgetting that the body also has a soul that must be defended and saved”.

Italian Bishops plan ‘Mercy Friday” March 27 to pray in cemeteries for unmourned dead

Meanwhile, the Italian Episcopal Conference has asked all of the country’s bishops to go alone to a cemetery in their diocese on March 27 for a moment of recollection, a prayer vigil and a blessing, to pray for the deceased who have been unable to have a funeral due to the pandemic.

The Italian Church wants to pray in this way for all those who have lost their lives due to coronavirus, and in particular for the dead in the city of Bergamo.

“The image of the military vehicles transporting coffins to the crematorium makes the drama of what the country is experiencing even more vivid”, said the Italian Bishops in a statement.

They added that “out of respect for health measures, many of these dead died alone, without any consolation, neither that of their closest family members nor that assured by the Sacraments”.

For that reason, the Italian Church promised that “all Christian communities, although they may not be physically close to each other, are not lacking in the closeness of prayer and charity”, and that “every day the priests celebrate Holy Mass for all the people of God, dead and alive”.

With the hope of returning to celebrate funeral Masses with the faithful again soon, the initiative of March 27 has the aim of “entrusting to the mercy of the Father all the dead from this pandemic, as well as expressing in this way the closeness of the Church to those who are in tears and pain”.

“This will be the ‘Mercy Friday’ of the Italian Church, on a Friday in Lent, in which the gaze of the Crucified invokes the comforting hope of the Resurrection”, the Italian Bishops concluded their communiqué.

(Source: Vatican News; translation: Novena)

On Novena, the latest on the coronavirus crisis:

Coronavirus shuts down Catholic shrines across Europe

Pope announces worldwide prayer Wednesday, special blessing Friday for end to virus plague

22/3: Pope offers prayers in Santa Marta Mass for lonely dying and their families

Analysis: Coronavirus “ghost Masses” no excuse for clericalism

French Jesuit economist urges world to learn lessons from coronavirus: “There’ll be other pandemics, that’s for sure”


Progressive Catholic journalist, author and educator. Working on social justice, equality and Church renewal.