An Italian priest has gone back to his former profession of nursing to care for the coronavirus sick, saying that in the face of the COVID-19 suffering in the country, and the exhaustion of his colleagues, he couldn’t just stay home.

– “The Lord taught us to love our neighbour”

Alessio Strapazzon, the 37-year-old parish priest since 2017 of Castellavazzo, Codissago and Podenzoi, in the Italian Dolomites, told Italian Bishops’ paper Avvenire March 25 that since this week he’s been back working as a nurse in the pneumology department of the San Martino de Belluno Hospital, where – as in clinics all over Italy – there are numerous cases of COVID-19-infected patients.

Strapazzon graduated as a nurse from the University of Padua in 2012 before entering the seminary.

Since being ordained, he’s worked as a curate, the bishop’s secretary, a hospital chaplain and now as a parish priest.

But he said he still felt a certain pull to go back to nursing, especially given the sheer number of coronavirus patients in Italy – now over 80,000 – the stress and suffering of his fellow healthcare professionals, and the fact that his church – like others around the country – has now been closed to the public as part of the quarantine measures.

“The idea of being a nurse, of being able to help in some way – and thinking of all my colleagues who are working hard right now, and who are giving it everything they’ve got – in a way did not allow me to stay home because in my heart I needed to offer my availability, help them, because we’re all one big family”, Strappazon said.

The young priest went on saying that “there’s always a bit of fear” in returning to a former profession, especially one as dramatic as nursing on the frontlines of the COVID-19 battle.

“But I think that being together as nurses, helping each other, supporting each other and walking together is what gives us more courage to face this difficult time”, Strappazon explained.

“As in all families, help is needed when it’s needed.

“My choice is supported by faith. The Lord taught us to love our neighbour. At this moment, for me loving my neighbour means going back to this old path”.

– The priest lung doctor: “In this difficult period of suffering we must be there”

Strappazon is hardly the only case in Italy of a priest volunteering to work in the country’s devastated, overrun hospitals, with a number of clerics offering either to offer their spiritual or professional services.

One of those who put their hand up was Father Alberto Debbi, who has returned to his practice of lung medicine at the hospital in Sassuolo.

“I think that in this difficult period of suffering we must be there and be ready with everything we’ve got”, said Debbi, as he took up his new responsibilities.

“It was a part of me that is still alive and that now more than ever prompts me to offer myself.

“I thank the Bishop and Don Sergio [Pellati, parish priest] for giving me the opportunity to do so.

“I will continue to pray and celebrate Mass for all of you. Now my altar is the sick person’s bed. A hug to everyone and strength!”, priest and lung doctor Debbi told his faithful in a message.

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