Bishops in the north of Italy have said the cancellation of Ash Wednesday services in the region this February 26 due to the coronavirus outbreak are a reminder of human “fragility”, but also an “occasion for grace”.

– Venice Patriarch: “For believers nothing is an accident”

“This year, Lent is beginning in an unforeseen way that we could not have imagined even a few days ago”, Venice Patriarch Francesco Moraglia wrote in a pastoral letter today, as CNS reports.

Venice is the capital of northern Italy’s Veneto region, one of the focal points of the coronavirus epidemic in Italy, which at noon today had infected 374 people in the whole of the country, and claimed the lives of twelve.

Public Masses have been suspended in Venice at least until midnight March 1.

Moraglia encouraged the faithful not to panic, but urged them to comply with the indications of health authorities to prevent the spread of the disease, which the Patriarch added was not only the duty of good citizens, but an act of Christian charity.

“For believers nothing is an accident, and everything is an occasion for grace, a favorable time to grow both in our humanity and as disciples,” Moraglia wrote.

“The situation we are experiencing brusquely awakens us from the illusion of being the generation that, thanks to its technical and scientific knowledge, has placed everything under control,” he said. “Fragility belongs to our condition as persons and creatures and, therefore, is not something that has been overcome.

“To think that we can do without God, our creator and father, is pure illusion”, the Venice Patriarch warned.

– Milan archbishop: “Perhaps panic is infecting our lives with greater speed and more danger than the virus is”

For his part, Archbishop Mario Delpini of Milan – where public Masses have also been suspended until further notice – invoked a series of blessings on the faithful, and especially on the ill, the government, and public health officials.

“I invoke the blessing of God on our land and on the whole planet”, Delpini wrote, but not without observing, however: “At this time of apprehension for ourselves and our loved ones, perhaps panic is spreading and infecting our lives with greater speed and more danger than the virus is”.

Delpini prayed to God to “bless our land, our families and our activities… Fill our souls and our environments with trust and with a commitment to the good of all and attention to those who are alone, poor or sick”.

“May scientists, researchers and those dedicated to caring for the sick and preventing illness be blessed”, the Milan archbishop said.

He also pledged that whatever further measures the authorities decide upon to contain the coronavirus outbreak “will be accepted with rigour by ecclesiastical institutions”.

– Bologna cardinal: Crisis invites us “to pray more intensely for everyone”

While Cardinal Matteo Zuppi of Bologna, meanwhile, also urged priests of his archdiocese not to celebrate public Masses for the start of Lent today, he also said “nothing prohibits having a table in the church with blessed ashes and distributing them to individuals or small groups who request them”.

That said, he invited the faithful to follow on TV or online the Ash Wednesday service he would celebrate “behind closed doors” at 9pm this evening.

To help with Catholics’ virtual participation in that private service, Zuppi published a prayer online that began: “Lord Jesus, you promised always, until the end of the world, to be in our midst when we gather in your name.

“Even if today we cannot gather with our brothers and sisters for the celebration, we want to enter into the solemn Lenten season together with the whole church”, the cardinal’s prayer continued.

“The health problems of many people, the energy of those caring for them and the disadvantages we all must face invite us to broaden our hearts and pray more intensely for everyone”, Zuppi wrote in his prayer for Ash Wednesday.

Next on Novena:

General Audience: Pope prays for coronavirus victims, Iraq, Air Italy employees under threat of mass layoffs

Milan archbishop criticises “alarmism” over coronavirus, apathy for victims in poorer countries; Vatican also takes preventative measures

Coronavirus: Italian Church cancels Masses, Ash Wednesday services as over 200 infected and five dead


PhD in ancient Jewish/Christian history and philosophy. University ethics lecturer with 4 years' experience in religion journalism.