Pope Francis has written an open letter, published in Padua’s daily newspaper, expressing his prayer and closeness to all those suffering as result of the Covid-19 coronavirus.

– “God speaks to us in times of suffering”

Pope Francis began his letter with an apology for what he calls “the informality of the gesture”.

He said that, through Padua’s daily newspaper, his intention is to reach out to the whole city, “to all the Christian communities with their priests and bishop”. By writing to them, the Pope said he is symbolically writing “to everyone”.

“The suffering and death that, as in other parts of Italy, you are experiencing because of the coronavirus is for me a reason for prayer and human closeness”, wrote Pope Francis.

“It is also the reason for Christian hope”, he continued, because “even in these moments, God is speaking to us”.

The Pope described “this dangerous situation” as “an opportunity to see what men and women of good will are capable of”.

Pope Francis said he is thinking “of those who, in these days, are doing more than they should: the medical and paramedical personnel first and foremost”.

Good will, “combined with a strong sense of responsibility and cooperation with the appropriate authorities, becomes an added value that the world sorely needs”, he wrote.

This year, the northern Italian city of Padua was named “European Capital of Volunteering”.

In his letter, the Pope called this “a wonderful opportunity for your city to tell the world about your DNA”, which includes generous use of time and sharing of talents.

Pope Francis invited the people of Italy’s Veneto Region to be proud of their history and to take responsibility “for all the good sown by those who have gone before you”.

In his letter, the Pope referenced the motto Padua has chosen as the guiding thread for the year of volunteering: “Stitching Italy together”. The verb “to stitch”, he wrote, recalls sewing and mending: “operations that are most necessary after a tear, a wound”.

Today we are tempted to throw away rather than to mend, wrote Pope Francis: “It is a fate we reserve not only for objects, but also for people, especially the most helpless”.

No one, he said, “should be refused a loving look of attention and a gesture of goodness”.

Pope Francis concludds by explaining how he chose to place the ad in the pages of Padua’s “Il Mattino” newspaper because he wants it to be “a caress” to those who are suffering at this time.

He extended this symbolic caress “to all the other cities that share this moment and, at the same time, are giving testimony of good will to the world”.

His last word and blessing went to all those who have lost a loved one, to the elderly, the sick and those who are imprisoned: anyone who, because of the Covid-19 coronavirus emergency, is unable to receive even the simple comfort of a visit.

– Encouragement to prayer and responsibility

On March 6, Pope Francis had telephoned the bishop of the northern Italian city of Lodi, Maurizio Malvestiti, to “inform himself on the situation“ in the region of Lombardy, one of the areas hardest-hit by the coronavirus outbreak.

“With words of faith”, the Pope encouraged the local community to prayer and responsibility, Malvestiti said in an interview with Vatican News.

“It was a surprise for me, but above all, it’s a great consolation; it’s a consolation that comes from God and, therefore, a source of encouragement to all”, the bishop said of the pontiff’s phone call.

“Listening to his very paternal, tranquil words and, at the same time, so calming, I have already felt the immense gratitude of all the communities of the most isolated region to our dear Pope Francis, who did not fail to give a special sign in this moment of great trial”.

Francis’ phonecall “gave everyone much confidence,” Malvestiti affirmed.

To date at least 700 coronavirus infections have been registered in Lodi alone.

Today “forced isolation affects 18 parishes of the 123 of the dioceses, which belong to the 10 municipalities of the Red Zone,” explained Bishop Malvestiti.

“The rest of us are in the Yellow Zone; there are restrictions in Lombardy, Veneto, and Emilia–Romagna but it’s not so onerous.”

– Vatican shuts St. Peter’s Basilica and Square

In other Covid-19-related news, St. Peter’s Basilica and Square will remain closed to tourists and guided tours until 3 April.

The Holy See Press Office announced the closures on Tuesday afternoon in a communiqué.

As of Tuesday, the Vatican Post Office’s mobile unit in St. Peter’s Square will also be shut down, along with the two sales points of the Vatican Publishing House and the Photographic Service of the Osservatore Romano, which will remain available online.

The Vatican’s canteen will close its doors to employees as of Wednesday, but is activating a meal delivery service for the various offices of the Holy See and the Vatican City State.

Guests and employees can still access the Vatican pharmacy and supermarket, though entrances will be restricted to avoid crowds forming inside.

The measures will remain in effect until at least 3 April 2020 to avoid spreading the Covid-19 coronavirus, according to the communiqué.

– Italian Military Archbishop thanks soldiers for containment duty, encourages citizens “to rediscover beauty of relationships”

For his part, the Archbishop of the Military Ordinariate in Italy, Santo Marcianò, has thanked and praised the work being done by the military as the country deals with the coronavirus emergency.

In a message, the archbishop wrote “as in the most critical moments in the history of our country, the military are on the front line, despite the concrete risks”.

Marcianò went on to say that the “the military represents a point of reference for the population, responding to calls, requests, fears of the people that are not always predictable”.

The archbishop also recalled those who serve abroad, who have institutional commitments or who must “organise and manage an emergency, taking demanding, delicate and difficult decisions every day”.

In his message, Archbishop Marcianò mentioned in particular the military chaplains who, he said, carry out their work with dedication and love, in the name of Christ and the Church.

“The history of this virus, with the restrictions imposed, reminds us of the value of life”, the prelate affirmed.

“We can do without many superfluous things, but we can’t do without each other”, Marcianò continued.

The military archbishop said that although this situation is unprecedented, it is important “to give the last word to hope and reflection, to concentrate on the essential, to rediscover the beauty of human and family relationships, and to rediscover the interior space.”

Just as in dramatic moments in history and during natural disasters, the archbishop invited people “to turn their gaze to the Lord”, and ask for Our Lady’s maternal help.

– L’Aquila cardinal pleads with citizens to come together for the common good

The archbishop of the Italian town of L’Aquila, meanwhile, has called for the “mobilisation of prayer, especially in families, to ask God to free the world from the ‘scourge'” of the coronavirus epidemic.

“For L’Aquila residents, this fright of an emergency, caused by the coronavirus epidemic, represents additional suffering for the community, dramatically affected by the 2009 earthquake”, Cardinal Giuseppe Petrocchi wrote in a message.

“The spread of the contagion of the coronavirus represents a serious threat to the entire population (at national and planetary level)”, the L’Aquila archbishop continued.

In addition, he said “the counteroffensive to this imminent danger requires that our consciences be on a state of alert as well as that we all adopt appropriate behaviours without exception”.

“It is the moment of co-responsibility”, pleaded Petrocchi, appealing for an alignment of intention and action towards a common commitment in the plural.

“This leap forward of ‘continuous’ civil and religious conscience requires a shared wisdom and a spirit of obedience to the rules (hygienic, health and social) established by the legitimate authorities”, the cardinal insisted.

The Italian archbishop also asked the faithful to avoid “ethical disagreements and behavioural disharmony, precisely because they are detrimental to the common good”.

At this dramatic moment, the Archbishop of L’Aquila asked for unity of purpose:

“In the Middle Ages, when a danger approached the city walls, the bells were rung with a hammer: it was the signal that united citizens.

“Real divisions and internal enmities had to be overcome immediately, just as individualisms and private interests had to be left aside to come together, co-ordinate, for the defence of the common good, which is the good of all and every one”.

Finally, Cardinal Petrocchi offered thoughts for the sick and for those who work these days with a spirit of sacrifice:

“I express fraternal solidarity with those affected by the disease and sincere gratitude to those who, at the head of the institutions – health, of public order, the social services – commit themselves, with often anonymous heroism, to fight in this battle with altruism and competent collaboration”.

(With reporting by Vatican News and ZENIT)

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