(By Andrea Riccardi, founder of the Community of Sant’Egidio)

Some dioceses in the North had already suspended mass. Last night [Sunday 8 – ed.], the Prime Minister decree (with decisive directives to reduce contagion) came into force, with the provisions on “religious ceremonies”.

Following an intense negotiation between the Italian Episcopal Conference (CEI) and Palazzo Chigi – given over entirely to bureaucratic concerns – the CEI gave up: both funerals and masses are suspended in Italy.

Those familiar with the CEI polite tone can immediately seize the major disappointment in the statement.

The Italian Episcopal Conference has always been always ready to collaborate, yet the decree was accepted only to “contribute to the protection of public health” and as “a highly restrictive step”. The Church does not start a crisis in a time of emergency.

Nevertheless, there is a misunderstanding of its reality. The government decrees “civil and religious ceremonies, including funeral ceremonies are suspended”.

Is the Liturgy of the Church one of the “ceremonies”?

In the decree, opening of worship places is wisely conditioned to the width and distance among those present. It right to avoid crowded funerals.

But it is hard to understand why worship and prayer are forbidden, when celebrated safely.

Perhaps not all decision-makers understand the peculiar sense of Mass for believers, of which the ancient martyrs said: sine dominicum non possumus [“we cannot live without Sunday”].

Churches in Italy are not the South Korean sect, where one prays breathing and holding hands and where the contagion took place – and was kept secret.

A serious aspect concerns relations between State and Church: “Each in his own order, independent and sovereign”.

Can the State decide on “ceremonies” in churches? One touches on jurisdictionalism, certainly inspired by prudence but which does not consider the holistic vision of a person. It is a weak spot in a system of relationships to come back to.

The coronavirus highlights an existing crisis among people, in need of connections and meanings.

Dioceses have stepped up videos inviting people to family prayer… But which family? In Milan 45,56% of people live alone; in Rome 44%. There are 250,000 lonely elderly people in Rome.

Our cities are made of lonely people, which do not feel protected in the face of an uncertain future, among fake news, conspiracy theories, magical explanations or divine condemnations.

Fear grows in solitude. Comfort comes not only from scientific explanations.

In the history of the Peninsula, masses have never been suspended. A very serious sign.

In times of crises, the Church has always been a point of reference. Like in 1943-45, facing the German violence.

Today there is confusion and uncertainty. In a weave of fragile relationships, to build up on faith and motivation is pivotal also to resist and develop solidarity and self-discipline, both decisive now.

It is precisely because we all agree the moment is serious and all human resources are needed.

(First published in Corriere della Sera; translation: Novena/Sant’Egidio)

More on Novena on the coronavirus crisis affecting the Church in Italy:

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Pope offers live Santa Marta Mass for coronavirus sick, caregivers as Vatican ups preventative measures

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Coronavirus: Pope to stream Angelus Sunday, Audience Wednesday as Vatican expresses “closeness and prayer” for victims

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‘Pope whisperer’ calls on faithful to activate Catholic “antibodies” against populist exploitation of coronavirus scare

4/3: Risk prevention or capitulation to fear? Italian Church group head criticises coronavirus Mass cancellations

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Italian cardinal dismisses conspiracy theory that coronavirus is “divine punishment”


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