Amid coronavirus plague, 14 Italian missionaries die in a month

Coronavirus: 14 Italian missionaries from single community die within a month, first bishop also passes away

(Source: CD/Fides/Vatican News)

Almost every day for the past two weeks, one of the Xaverian Missionaries in the order’s mother house in Parma has died of coronavirus.”We’re alone. We get sick and die. But now someone has to come help us”, superior of the Xaverians of Italy, Rosario Giannattasio, has pleaded.

The 11 priests and the 3 religious who have died of COVID-19 in such a short time spent many years of their lives in mission land, announcing the Gospel of Jesus Christ in four continents.

Twelve of them lived in the mother hous for medical treatment or only for compulsory rest, given the age and life spent for the most part between the privations and difficulties of the missions.

Parma is located in the northern area of Italy where the coronavirus has spread rapidly. The diocese has lost 6 priests.

Although there is no certain evidence that the Xaverians who died had contracted the coronavirus, Father Giannattasio stressed that this is certainly a much higher mortality (compared to the four or five missionaries who usually die in the mother house during the year).

It is therefore inevitable to think of a connection with the coronavirus, also because an employee of the residence tested positive for the disease.

The Xaverians who died in these weeks were deeply active in the various fields of the missionary apostolate, as can be seen by scrolling through their biographical notes.

From the teaching and formation of young people to the management of Church budgets, from parish pastoral care to the assistance of migrants, from the design of buildings to tailoring and cooking, passing through a thousand other tasks and duties that are part of the daily life of a community, small or large.

Once back in Italy, often emptied of physical strength and tried by disease, they continued to give their passionate witness in missionary animation, in priestly pastoral care and in reception.

Some of them even resumed the mission path, despite their old age.

Without a doubt they embodied the desire of their founder, San Guido Maria Conforti, who thus wrote:

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“The Missionary is the most beautiful and sublime personification of the ideal life. He contemplated in spirit Jesus Christ who points out to the Apostles the world to be conquered by the Gospel, not with the force of arms, but with persuasion and love and he was enraptured”.

We remember them by citing their period of missionary service.

  • Fr. Piergiorgio Betti, 83 years old, was a missionary in Congo from 1973 to 1983. Died in the mother house on March 23.
  • Fr. Gerardo Caglioni, 73, was a missionary in Mexico (1980-1983) and Sierra Leone (from 1984 to 1993 and from 2002 to 2006). Died in the mother house on March 22nd.
  • Fr. Stefano Coronese, 88 years old, was a missionary in Indonesia from the late 60s to the mid 80s. Died in the mother house on March 21.
  • Fr. Pilade Giuseppe Rossini, 84, missionary in Sierra Leone from the sixties to 1998, with three intervals in Italy. Died in the hospital Seriate on March 19.
  • Brother Giuseppe Scintu, 85 years old, missionary in Congo from 1968 to 1975. Died in the mother house on March 19th.
  • Brother Luigi Isaia Masseroni, 90 years old, missionary in Brazil from 1956 to 1967. Died in the mother house on March 18th.
  • Brother Guglielmo Saderi, 88 years old, missionary in Congo from 1961 to 2010, alternating periods of service in Italy. Died in the mother house on March 18.
  • Father Giuseppe Rizzi, 77 years old, missionary in Burundi and Congo from 1977 to 2010. Died in the mother house on March 15th.
  • Father Piermario Tassi, 90 years old, missionary in Congo from 1962 to 1996. Died on March 15 in the mother house.
  • Fr. Vittorio Ferrari, 88 years old, missionary in Japan from 1961 to 1974, died in the mother house on March 14th.
  • Fr. Nicola Adriano Masi, 92 years old, missionary in Brazil from 1976 to 2010. Died in the mother house on March 12th.
  • Fr. Enrico di Nicolò, 80 years old, dedicated his life to teaching and the priestly ministry. Died while visiting family members on March 11.
  • Fr. Corrado Stradiotto, 86 years old, missionary in Indonesia from 1967 to 1975. Died in the mother house on March 7th.
  • Fr. Pietro Zoni, 85 years old, from 1970 to 2013 was a missionary in Burundi, the United States and Cameroon. Died in the mother house on February 29.
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The Xaverian Missionaries, born with the sole purpose of announcing the Gospel to those who still do not know it, are 819 (2015 data) present in over 150 communities in Europe, Africa, Asia and America.

First Catholic bishop dies of COVID-19

In the meantime, Italian missionary and Apostolic Vicar to Ethiopia’s Gambella Vicariate, Bishop Angelo Moreschi, SDB, died on Wednesday, 25 March.

Announcing his death, the Salesian News Agency stated:

“The Salesian community mourns the death of the Apostolic Vicar of Gambella (Ethiopia), namely Bishop Angelo Moreschi, SDB, who died today, March 25, in Brescia (Italy), due to the coronavirus.”

“In his mission as Prefect and then as Apostolic Vicar, he continued to embody the Salesian focus in helping children, accompanying them by his practical spirit and his strong apostolic zeal,” the statement read.

In Ethiopia, the Catholic Bishops’ Conference (CBCE) Secretary-General, Fr. Teshome Fikre, conveyed his condolences to the clergy, religious and the lay faithful of Gambella in a letter.

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He assured them of the “closeness and prayers” of the Bishops’ Conference and the Catholic Church in Ethiopia.

Missionary Bishop

Bishop Moreschi was born in Nave, Italy. He joined the Salesian order and pronounced his first vows in 1974. After his ordination in 1982, he went to Ethiopia as a missionary.

On 16 November 2000, he was appointed Apostolic Prefect of Gambella. Nine years later, when the Prefecture was made a Vicariate, Bishop Moreschi was appointed its first Bishop.

Due to ill health, he returned to Italy for medical care and later resigned from his position as Apostolic Vicar. 

He wanted to return to Ethiopia to life out his last days.

But he tested positive for the Covid-19 virus last week, and was unable to return to the place he called home.

Novena’s full coverage of the coronavirus pandemic:

24/3: Coronavirus: In Santa Marta Mass, Pope thanks doctors, nurses, priests for “heroic example”

Migrants in Milan mourn priest “father and friend” lost to coronavirus

On coronavirus frontlines, brave Italian nuns rediscover meaning of vow to give lives for sick

‘Good news’ on the coronavirus front: meet the hero priests going beyond the call of duty

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Cameron Doody

Director and editor at Novena
PhD in ancient Jewish/Christian history and philosophy. Lecturer in ethics at Loyola University Maryland, Alcalá de Henares (Spain) campus. Religion journalist with 4 years experience.