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COVID-19 epidemic: What has the Vatican done so far?

Matteo Ciofi

Wednesday, April 8, 2020

A woman wearing a mask for protection from the coronavirus rides her bicycle outside St. Peter's Square at the Vatican on March 31, 2020. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)
As the coronavirus continues to take centre stage in world news and in our lives, we all know that the Vatican has been dealing with the pandemic liturgically – providing guidelines for the celebration of Holy Week and Easter, new prayers, and a new votive Mass. And we’re all aware of the way Pope Francis has reached out to the world at this time, especially through the special “urbi et orbi” blessing he offered on March 27.
But what is making less news is the way the Vatican is also practicing the corporal works of mercy – taking practical measures to help those affected by the virus. And so I thought it might be interesting to provide a brief timeline to give you a little sense of the perspective on the situation from Rome:
Towards the end of January, the virus that has been devastating the province of Hubei, China, since the early days of 2020 becomes increasingly prominent in newscasts and on the front pages of newspapers in Italy.
The emergency continues, and on February 3, a note from the Holy See Press Office announces that approximately 700,000 masks have been sent to China to limit the spread of the coronavirus infection. The press release specifies that the consignment is intended for the provinces of Hubei, Zhejiang, and Fujian, and that it is a joint initiative, carried out by the Apostolic Alms and Missionary Center of the Chinese Church in Italy, with the collaboration of the Vatican Pharmacy.
Weeks go by. Lent begins, and the virus reaches Italy, especially the north-east of the country. Contagion grows day by day, and two outbreaks are identified. And then comes the news of the first victim in Italy: a 78-year-old man who dies in Vo 'Euganeo in the province of Padua on Friday, February 21.
Two weeks later, new measures are introduced in Lombardy, and on the evening of March 7, Milan's railway stations are crowded, mainly by students and workers – temporary residents who are trying to leave the city to avoid being trapped in Lombardy’s capital.
Only four days later, with a Ministerial Decree on March 11, Prime Minister Conte orders urgent measures to contain the contagion throughout the whole of Italy, suspending "retail commercial activities, with the exception of the sale of food and basic necessities".
The lockdown encompasses the whole country, and the news goes around the world. But a few hours before, in the late afternoon of March 10, the Administration of the Patrimony of the Apostolic See (APSA) and the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, the two Dicasteries of the Holy See that deal with property management, had announced that they were prepared to consider rent reductions for commercial tenants in the face of the crisis for the coronavirus epidemic and the restrictions placed on them by the Italian authorities.
Two weeks later, with no end to the emergency in sight, the Holy Father personally makes a new gesture: On March 25, the pontiff entrusts 30 recently-purchased ventilators to the Office of Papal Charities so that they can donate them to hospitals in the areas most affected by COVID-19. The ventilators are given to hospitals in Italy and Spain, the two European countries with the greatest difficulties in stopping the epidemic.
March ends. On April 3, Pope Francis makes a new donation: 60,000 euros to the Bishop of Bergamo – through the Chapter of Saint Peter’s Basilica – for the purchase of ventilators for the Papa Giovanni Hospital.
The curve in Italy finally starts to go down, and there is also a new gesture of enormous importance desired by the pontiff.
On April 6, a fund is established for mission areas affected by the virus. The initial contribution made by Pope Francis amounts to $750,000, and the pope asks those churches that can to contribute through the Pontifical Mission Societies.
This latest gesture of solidarity and charity by the pope is an action that lengthens the list of what the Church has done in the last two months, during a Lent which has been a period of sacrifice and suffering like never before, but also one of great charity, a central word of Pope Francis’ leadership.

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