The Archbishop of Milan has criticised the “alarmism” and the apathy for victims in poorer countries as the coronavirus outbreak sweeps over Italy, Europe and the wider world, forcing the Vatican to also take measures to prevent the spread of the disease.

– “I do not share this contagion of fear, but I understand the psychological aspect”

Archbishop Mario Delpini spoke to Vatican News February 24 in the wake of the announcement that all public Masses in the Milan archdiocese would be suspended until further notice, in accordance with Italian Ministry of Health indications to contain the spread of the virus.

Asked how he was living the coronavirus outbreak in Italy – as the number of infections in the country the morning of February 25 reached 222, and the number of deaths due to the illness seven – Delpini said he was keeping calm, “trusting the institutions in charge and declaring [the Church’s] disposition to carry out the precautionary indications necessary to contain the spread of this virus”.

“I do not share this widespread alarmism, this contagion of fear, which has led to some exaggerated behaviour, but I also understand the psychological aspect, given the media emphasis and the space given to the news”, Delpini said.

The archbishop added that while he could understand that people have begun hoarding food and other essentials, he said it was his conviction that calm “to do what can be done” would come by “following the instructions of the competent authorities”.

As for the cancellation of Ash Wednesday services elsewhere in Italy for tomorrow February 26, Delpini said that wasn’t a problem – at least for the moment – in the Milan archdiocese, which follows the Ambrosian rite and hence enters into Lent with the imposition of ashes on the Sunday after the rest of the Latin Church.

Having said that, if Mass cancellations are still in place Sunday March 1, “another way will be found to enter into Lent”, Delpini promised.

“The alternative could be to devote oneself more personally to prayer and penance, to the meditation of the Gospel, and then, perhaps, to hold a significant rite later in Lent”, the Milan archbishop explained, appealing to the faithful to keep their concerns at bay for the moment and “see what happens”.

– “Money is invested in research for the treatment of people who can pay”

As for the spiritual lessons that can be learnt from the coronavirus outbreak, Archbishop Delpini observed “how certain forms of communication produce alarm, how forms of communication help us to be wise and prudent and that good communication is the determining issue”.

“From the scientific point of view, this episode, at least for me, has given rise to many questions about the investments made in research”, Delpini continued.

“In many places, much money is invested in research for the treatment of people who can pay… let’s say, in the diseases of the rich.

“In the countries where the diseases that turn into epidemics come from, it seems to me that there is not so much care to raise the standard of living, the level of hygiene, the level of prevention…

“This also gives rise to the desire to express solidarity with the infected, with countries that are subject to very strict restrictions”, the Milan archbishop insisted.

China reported today 77,658 cases and 2,663 deaths from coronavirus while South Korea says the number of infections has hit 893, meanwhile in Iran at least 14 cases – if not 50, according to some counts – have been confirmed.

– Vatican postpones events, installs hand sanitiser dispensers, moves Wednesday General Audience

Archbishop Delpini’s comments came as Holy See spokesman Matteo Bruni confirmed February 24 that due to the coronavirus outbreak, the Vatican will cancel events where a significant presence of people in confined areas is expected.

In line with the instructions of the Italian authorities, hand soap dispensers will be installed in Vatican facilities, a Vatican nurse and doctor have been called on duty to attend to possible coronavirus patients and a meeting Tuesday with Cardinal Celso Costantini at Rome’s Pontifical Urbaniana University has been postponed, Bruni said.

This Wednesday’s General Audience with Pope Francis will also be held in the open space of St. Peter’s Square, and not the closed confines of the Paul VI Hall, the Vatican spokesman also confirmed.

Next on Novena:

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

12/2: Pope prays for “healing as soon as possible” for victims of “very cruel” coronavirus


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