Pope Francis’ Vicar General for the Diocese of Rome, Cardinal Angelo De Donatis, was admitted to Rome’s Gemelli Hospital on Monday after testing positive for COVID-19.

– Only phone contact with Pope Francis

Cardinal De Donatis, 66, is running a fever, but his general condition is currently good, and he has begun antiviral therapy.

Following procedures in place to halt the spread of the coronavirus, the prelate has had fewer meetings with his staff at the Lateran Palace recently.

As a precaution, his closest collaborators are in isolation.

The cardinal noted that he has not been to the Vatican in recent days, and has been in contact with the Pope only by phone.

– Sharing in the suffering of others

“I am also experiencing this trial, I am at peace and confident”, Cardinal De Donatis said.

“I entrust myself to the Lord, and to the prayers of all you, dear faithful of Rome!”

He added, “I live this moment as an opportunity that Providence has given me to share in the sufferings of so many brothers and sisters.

“I am offering my prayer for them, for the whole diocesan community, and for the people of the City of Rome”.

Since 11 March, Cardinal De Donatis has been celebrating a Mass every evening at the Sanctuary of Divine Love in Rome.

The Mass is broadcast on the Bishops’ Conference television channel, TV2000, and is live-streamed on the Diocese of Rome’s Facebook page.

During the first Mass from the Sanctuary, on the occasion of the Pope’s act of entrustment to Mary, the cardinal said that “the antidote, the therapy for the suffering of the present moment, is to entrust oneself to the hands of God. We are in His hands, and no one can tear us away from Him”.

– Priests and bishops on the frontlines

Catholic clergy have been particularly affected by COVID-19, with dozens of priests already succumbing to the disease in Italy alone.

According to the latest reports, at least 79 Italian priests as well as at least six Italian nuns are among the 11,591 coronavirus in the country.

Last week, Salesian Bishop Angelo Moreschi, the Apostolic Vicar of Ethiopia’s Gambella Vicariate, became the first bishop in the world to die of the disease. 

– Vatican flags at half-mast today

Meanwhile, the Holy See, in solidarity with Italy, will be flying flags at half-mast on Tuesday, as a sign of mourning.

The gesture is an expression of the Church’s closeness to the victims of COVID-19 in Italy and around the world, as well as to their families and to those who are generously fighting to end the pandemic.

– Pope receives Italian PM in private visit amid talk of extending quarantine

The news of De Donatis’ positive test for coronavirus Monday came on the same day in which Pope Francis welcomed to the Vatican Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte on what was billed as a “private”, rather than official, visit.

That label for the audience meant that neither side had any official comment on the encounter, but it is likely they spoke of the coronavirus crisis and its social, economic and political aftermath, a subject the Pope has been ringing alarm bells on in recent days.

Conte and Francis likely also spoke of the strict COVID-19 lockdown measures the Italian Government is planning to extend once they expire April 3.

In his March 12 Mass at his residence, the Casa Santa Marta, the Pope prayed that politicians charged with coronavirus responses may “feel accompanied by the prayer of the people”.

“Many times they make decisions that people don’t like but it’s for our good”, the Pope stressed.

Francis returned to those sentiments in a March 28 letter to Argentinian judge Roberto Andrés Gallardo, in which he wrote that “it is true that quarantine measures ‘bother’ those who are forced to comply with them, but it is always for the common good and, in the long run, most people accept them and have a positive attitude”.

That support of the Pope’s is crucial for Conte, who is facing a backlash from Italians growing increasingly frustrated with having been confined to their homes for the past three weeks.

The resentment is becoming particularly palpable among Catholics, who were reminded March 28 by the Ministry for Internal Affairs that, although churches remain open during the pandemic, people may stop to pray in them only if “the church is situated along one’s way” to or from a government-approved reason for leaving their homes: going to the supermarket, pharmacy, doctor’s office or to work.

– Papal almoner: “There’s no place for the poor to go to ask for help”

On a positive note, however, the Italian Bishops have donated another three million euros to healthcare facilities in the country, and Rome Mayor Virginia Raggi – who also met with Pope Francis in a private audience last week – has endorsed a campaign run by Church charity Caritas to help the poor amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

On the other hand, papal almoner and the pontiff’s charities head, Cardinal Konrad Krajewski, is finding creative ways to tend to the less fortunate during the outbreak, driving up to 250km daily around Rome’s streets picking up and delivering food to the homeless.

“I made a tour around the Roman parishes today”, Krajewski told Crux March 29.

“I told them that washing the feet of those in need is like consecration during the Eucharist.

“I went to one friary – I asked – how many of you are there? They said 20. It is 20 men that can serve the poor! We don’t need to put our lay volunteers in danger, the Churchmen can do it!

“For the first time I heard from the poor these days – we are hungry”, Krajewski said Sunday in his private Mass in the Vatican.

“There is no place to go for them to ask for help – bars and restaurants are closed”.

That’s why ‘the Pope’s Robin Hood’ had a special message for the priests from all over the world studying at Rome’s pontifical universities.

“Put away the theology books for now – there is a Gospel in the making on the streets”, where “miracles are happening”, Krajewski urged.

(With information from Vatican News)

More on Novena on the COVID-19 crisis:

Vatican cardinal deplores on COVID-19: “We don’t have enough masks but there are more than enough bullets”

Vatican tests 170 people for COVID-19, confirms two new positives but says Pope “not involved”

Vatican cardinal, on COVID-19: “We should wash our hands, but not of our responsibility for the vulnerable”

Vatican bodies denounce “selfishness and shortsightedness” of “uncoordinated” national responses to COVID-19

Francis – to celebrate Easter without physical presence of faithful – donates respirators to COVID-19-hit hospitals

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