Update: Vatican confirms pope does not have COVID-19

IMAGE: CNS photo/Vatican Media

By Cindy Wooden

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Neither Pope Francis nor any of his closest collaborators have the COVID-19 virus, said Matteo Bruni, director of the Vatican press office.

In a note March 28, Bruni confirmed that a monsignor, who works in the Vatican Secretariat of State and lives in the Domus Sanctae Marthae, where Pope Francis lives, did test positive for the coronavirus and, "as a precaution," was hospitalized.

The Italian newspaper Il Messaggero and the Jesuit-run America magazine published reports March 25 about the monsignor testing positive.

Bruni said that as of March 28, the Vatican health service had conducted more than 170 tests for the virus. No one else who lives at the Domus Sanctae Marthae tested positive, Bruni said.

As soon as the monsignor tested positive, he said, his room and office were sanitized and all the people he had come into contact with over the preceding days were contacted.

"The health authorities carried out tests on the people in closest contact with the positive individual," Bruni said. "The results confirmed the absence of other positive cases" among the residents of the Vatican guesthouse, but another employee of the Holy See who was in "close contact with the official" did test positive.

That brings to six the number of people in the Vatican who have tested positive, he said.

The Vatican press office had confirmed the first four cases March 24. The first, already confirmed by the Vatican March 6, was a priest from Bergamo who had a routine pre-employment exam at the Vatican health clinic. After he was discovered with symptoms, the clinic was closed temporarily for special cleaning, and the five people the priest came into contact with were put under a preventive quarantine.

There were reports at the same time that the offices of the Secretariat of State were closed temporarily for a thorough cleaning.

The Vatican did not say when the next three people tested positive, but it said one worked in the Vatican warehouse and two worked at the Vatican Museums.

All four, the Vatican said March 24, "were placed in precautionary isolation" before their test results came back. "The isolation has already lasted more than 14 days; currently they are receiving care in Italian hospitals or in their own homes."

Both America magazine and Il Messaggero said Pope Francis was unlikely to have had contact with the monsignor from the Secretariat of State who tested positive. Both reported that Pope Francis has been eating his meals in his room rather than the dining room since coming down with a bad cold after Ash Wednesday, Feb. 26.

While the Vatican has canceled all group meetings, Pope Francis continues to meet with individuals each day.

News reports said the pope and his guests use hand sanitizer before and after the meetings.



- - -

Copyright © 2020 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. All rights reserved. Republishing or redistributing of CNS content, including by framing or similar means without prior permission, is prohibited. You may link to stories on our public site. This copy is for your personal, non-commercial use only. To request permission for republishing or redistributing of CNS content, please contact permissions at

Masses, Stations of the Cross, meditations in livestreams, on YouTube

IMAGE: CNS photo/Chaz Muth


WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Here is a sampling of Masses, Stations of the Cross, meditations and other devotions being livestreamed by dioceses and other groups around country:

Eastern Time Zone

Diocese of Portland, Maine:

Archdiocese of Boston's CatholicTV Network has daily Mass in English and Spanish (Viewers can watch at any time):

Diocese of Brooklyn, New York, offers Mass in seven languages, both live and recorded:

Ukrainian Catholic Diocese of Stamford, Connecticut:

Byzantine Catholic Archeparchy of Pittsburgh Divine Liturgies:

Daily Mass in Armenian rite:

Archdiocese of Cincinnati, Mass in English and Spanish:

Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington:

St. Augustine's, Mother Church of African American Catholics in Washington:

Diocese of Raleigh, North Carolina, resources:

Diocese of Orlando, Florida:

Archdiocese of Miami online Masses in four languages:
Creole: 9 a.m. Sunday:

Archdiocese of Detroit:

Chaldean Diocese of St. Thomas the Apostle, Southfield, Michigan:
Live streaming Sunday Masses:
Live streaming daily Masses on our Facebook and YouTube channels.

Central Time Zone

Archdiocese of Milwaukee:

St. John's Abbey, livestream daily 5 p.m.; Saturday: 10:30 a.m.; Sunday 11:30 a.m.:

Archdiocese of Chicago Sunday Masses in English, Spanish and Polish (anytime)

Archdiocese of Dubuque, Iowa, Mass in English, Spanish, also rosary

Archdiocese of St. Louis:

Diocese of Houma-Thibodaux, Louisiana:

Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston, English and Spanish:
Mass in Vietnamese:

Diocese of Dallas, live and recorded, English and Spanish:

Mountain Time Zone

Diocese of Cheyenne, Wyoming, Mass in English and Spanish,

Archdiocese of Denver:

Diocese of Salt Lake City:

Diocese of Phoenix:

Pacific Time Zone

Archdiocese of Portland, Oregon, Sunday Mass 11 a.m.:

Archdiocese of Seattle, daily Mass 8:30 a.m.:

Archdiocese of San Francisco:

Archdiocese of Los Angeles, 7 a.m. Spanish; 10 a.m. English:

Diocese of San Diego Diocese, English, Spanish, Vietnamese:

Alaska Time Zone

Diocese of Fairbanks, English and Spanish:

Hawaii Time Zone

Diocese of Honolulu:

Sign Language

Other Devotions

Stations of the Cross by Diocese of Little Rock, Arkansas, (anytime, recorded meditations):

Meditation/Daily Readings:

Oregon Catholic Press:
Resources for parishes:
Resources for home:

- - -

Copyright © 2020 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. All rights reserved. Republishing or redistributing of CNS content, including by framing or similar means without prior permission, is prohibited. You may link to stories on our public site. This copy is for your personal, non-commercial use only. To request permission for republishing or redistributing of CNS content, please contact permissions at

Some tout DACA recipients as key in COVID-19 fight

IMAGE: CNS photo/Tyler Orsburn

By Rhina Guidos

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- The video begins with a nurse named Sol, a beneficiary of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA program, who was brought to the United States at age 9.

Today, she is a registered nurse, and one of 27,000 beneficiaries of the program that allows young adults who were brought into the United States illegally as children the opportunity to work in the U.S., and exempts them from deportation, if they meet certain criteria.

That significant population, serving in U.S. hospitals, including emergencies wards as Sol does, is key in fighting the current coronavirus pandemic, argue supporters of DACA beneficiaries known as "Dreamers."

Some ask that an imminent Supreme Court decision that will determine whether the program can continue be delayed or side with the recipients who don't just work as nurses or doctors but are vital in the daily operations needed in U.S. hospitals and other places that are keeping the U.S. going in the middle of a pandemic.  

"We are stronger and safer thanks to the contributions of Dreamers and other immigrants providing essential services to our communities and the economy at this difficult moment," said Candy Marshall, president of the organization TheDream.US, which describes itself as the nation's largest college access and success program for immigrant youth in this country without documents.

In a statement issued March 27, Marshall said the 27,000 DACA recipients nationwide "are serving as health care workers and many are on the frontlines of our national pandemic response and containment efforts." But the decision would affect 700,000 who benefit from DACA nationwide.

One of them is Sol the nurse, who says in the video the organization issued, that "DACA has made us resilient, has made us resourceful," and it's those skills the country needs most right now, the organization said.

"We are all in this fight against COVID-19 together and should recognize that including DACA recipients and other immigrants in ongoing recovery and containment efforts is both the right thing to do and the smart thing to do," the statement said.

It also notes that U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services offices are not open because of the coronavirus and are not processing DACA renewals, putting many of the young migrants, and therefore the health system, in a precarious situation.

They also argued for the protection of those with Temporary Protective Status program, or TPS, a program that grants a work permit and reprieve from deportation to certain people whose home countries have experienced natural disasters, armed conflicts or exceptional situations, so they can remain temporarily in the United States.  

"The Supreme Court should delay an announcement on the pending DACA case and (U.S. Department of Homeland Security) and lawmakers should work together to ensure that DACA and TPS status can be extended," the organization said.

Faith leaders, including many from Catholic organizations, joined in the calls for a delay of the high court's decision expected no later than late June.

Justices will weigh whether President Donald Trump had the authority to rescind DACA by executive order. It was implemented in 2012 by an executive order from President Barack Obama. While the program does not provide legal status for youths to the country without legal permission as children, it gives them protection as long as the applicants meet certain criteria.

Trump rescinded stopped the program in 2017, and his action was challenged in the lower courts and the case is now before the high court.

Giovana Oaxaca Najera, government relations associate at Network, a Catholic social justice lobby, is a DACA recipient and addressed the current pandemic and the role of DACA beneficiaries in health care in a statement issued by the Home is Here Coalition March 27.

"In the midst of a national emergency, and at a time when so little is certain about the scale of the public health crisis, a decision on DACA now would be incomprehensible and immoral," the statement said. "It would jeopardize the life and livelihood of not just DACA recipients, but communities all over. The crisis has brought into sharp relief the inequities in access to health care and assistance available to marginalized communities, and especially immigrants.

"The Supreme Court must take into consideration the full repercussions and consequences of a decision at this time."

Jose Arnulfo Cabrera, director of education and advocacy for migration at the Ohio-based Ignatian Solidarity Network, who also is a DACA recipient, said in an interview March 27 with Catholic News Service that the lack of certainty is putting even more pressure on those who are already sacrificing so that the country can carry on during the pandemic.

He said he recently spoke with a fellow DACA recipient from Los Angeles who is still in school but works as an emergency medical technician.

"She went to various hospitals picking up elderly patients that were discharged from the ER and transported them safely to various skilled nursing facilities, hospitals or their homes, where they'd be safer from COVID-19," he said.

And given the closure of offices, which could affect the renewals of their permits, "we urge the Supreme Court to delay he decision until the (pandemic) is over," he said.

There also are many other immigrants in a variety of situations, such as keeping hospitals and other facilities clean, and all are risking their lives and contributing to the country, he said,adding their efforts should be recognized.


- - -

Copyright © 2020 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. All rights reserved. Republishing or redistributing of CNS content, including by framing or similar means without prior permission, is prohibited. You may link to stories on our public site. This copy is for your personal, non-commercial use only. To request permission for republishing or redistributing of CNS content, please contact permissions at

Catholic nurses often only spiritual connection to hospitalized patients

IMAGE: CNS photo/Gregory A. Shemitz

By Tom Tracy

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. (CNS) -- A tightening of some hospital visitor restrictions on religious ministers and patient family members has begun as the coronavirus pandemic ramps up around the U.S.

"It has been about two weeks -- it started out with a limit on the times ministers or family members could come in, then a week later they completely stopped it," said Maria Arvonio, a night-shift nursing supervisor for a large community hospital near Mount Laurel, New Jersey, and the lower Northeastern regional director of the Chicago-based National Association of Catholic Nurses.

Catholic nurses, Arvonio noted, are now often the only spiritual connection for those in their care.

"The patients can make phone calls, but eucharistic ministers, volunteers and family are not allowed to visit at this time, so Catholic nurses are the only Catholic lifeline to their spirituality," Arvonio said, adding that historically the church has encouraged strong collegial associations of Catholic nurses.

The Joint Commission, an organization that accredits and certifies over 22,000 health care organizations in the U.S., likewise acknowledges that offering spiritual care to patients is vital toward supporting their health.

"In my opinion, we are the hands and feet of Christ ministering God's love and healing to our patients, especially now more than ever since patients are unable to receive the Eucharist and spiritual care" offered by extraordinary ministers of holy Communion, Arvonio said, adding the patient disconnect with family members can lead to anxiety and fear of the virus.

Arvonio has participated in United Nations congresses under the auspices of the International Catholic Committee of Nurses and Medico-Social Assistants, which serves as a nongovernmental organization with consultative status.

It is well-accepted that a patient's faith and spiritual beliefs can affect their healing process and that is why it is imperative that nurses are culturally competent -- to be aware of patients' belief systems in order to support their healing process, according to Arvonio.

"It is even more so now that we pray with and for our patients," she told Catholic News Service.

"Right now patients don't have their family members present -- at my facility that stopped two weeks prior to the official government order," she said. "Instead, hospitals are suggesting using cellphones and Facetime platforms with family."

But how many elderly people can really do that well with electronic communications?

Arvonio said it is during hospital night hours especially, when lonely and often elderly patients feel vulnerable and want someone to talk to, that they open up to the nursing staff.

"At night when I am (working), that nurse at the bedside is really important because the patient has time to think about what they have done over their lifetime. We have to be ready for that," Arvonio said.

"You should see the eyes of some patients, they are lonely and there is such fear. They don't have their family there, and they are worried for their family and the family are worried for them."

Arvonio said medical professionals are concerned if they are potentially exposing themselves and their families to the often-deadly coronavirus. She said nurses must practice universal protection for every patient -- but that isn't always sufficient for some contagious diseases that are not confirmed until test results return.

"Not knowing what this (COVID-19) disease process is, every day hearing something different on the news from one extreme to the next -- honestly, without my faith I would not be able to walk in there," she said.

In the coming days, Arvonio hopes to conduct an online training and mutual support forum for other Catholic nurses who are association members and include one or two clergy, and hopes the association's regional directors will do the same thing in other parts of the country.

"When you are out there by yourself, you are a sitting duck, but when you are in the circle with the Blessed Mother and with your colleagues, you are safe; if we stay strong in the sacramentals and watch the Mass online, we can do this," she said.

"This is a time not to listen too much to the news but stand on the word of God, to give glory to him and encourage nurses to stay close to God," Arvonio added.

In Cleveland, psychiatric mental health nurse Clarice Marie DeJesus oversees a new chapter of the National Association of Catholic Nurses while working at a mental health lockdown facility in Cleveland's inner city.

Though the city's coronavirus spread there is far less than other big cities, DeJesus said the hospital checks patients' temperatures twice daily and has plans to cordon off whichever floor of the hospital is first found to have a COVID-19-positive patient, then designate that the coronavirus treatment area.

Staff also are being screened daily upon arrival.

"I have talked to the nurses I work with, and I have to say that for those of us who have nourished our spiritually, it is business as usual and we can stay focused," DeJesus said.

"I have found people are becoming full of charity and that this is bringing out the best of people. When you work in a hospital you are always on guard about things that can be transmitted but obviously we have upped the game (for coronavirus) but our mentality is the same," she told CNS.

On a personal level, DeJesus is in the process of becoming a lay Franciscan, and she said St. Francis offers a great example for enduring this pandemic. She is praying the family rosary with her elderly parents by telephone to protect their safety.

Her personal devotions include prayers to Our Lady of Perpetual Help, St. John Paul II and Blessed Hannah Chrzanowska, a 20th-century Polish nurse beatified in 2018.

"This is a great opportunity for evangelization, the type of evangelization that St. Francis spoke of when he said, 'When necessary, use words,'" DeJesus said. "People are looking for charity and will be more receptive now to works of charity love and service."

Some Catholic health care professionals just accept that they will be exposed to the coronavirus, according to Dr. Robert Tiballi, an infectious disease specialist, who is a member of the Catholic Medical Association. Based in Elgin, Illinois, near Chicago, he has closed his private office and moved from face-to-face visits to telemedicine.

"It's not a question of if, but when I will get infected -- I may have already been so, not sure because we can't get testing," Tiballi told CNS.

"It's very similar to a mid-1980s when I was working with AIDS patients in Manhattan and was exposed via a needlestick injury and we had no ability to test at that time. Our state of Illinois makes all testing go through public health which is an incredible bottleneck, and patients are upset they cannot get testing."

On a personal note, Tiballi said he prays the rosary daily for all his patients past and present and future and dedicates his day's work to the Lord.

"When I am not exhausted in the evening I try to pray for reparation, praying ... for my sins, for the sins of church leaders, for the unbelief of the world and for sins of the clergy against the young and vulnerable."

- - -

Copyright © 2020 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. All rights reserved. Republishing or redistributing of CNS content, including by framing or similar means without prior permission, is prohibited. You may link to stories on our public site. This copy is for your personal, non-commercial use only. To request permission for republishing or redistributing of CNS content, please contact permissions at

Distraught, determined Little Sisters of the Poor cope with coronavirus

IMAGE: CNS photo/Don Blake, The Dialog

By Joseph P. Owens

WILMINGTON, Del. (CNS) -- Mother Margaret Regina Halloran was doing her best to fight back tears in the early morning of March 27, but she wasn't really winning the struggle.

The local superior of the Jeanne Jugan Residence in Newark, Delaware, run by the Little Sisters of the Poor had the most difficult time the day before when a longtime resident died after testing positive for the coronavirus. The 86-year-old man with Philadelphia roots was a popular resident who delighted many over the years by dancing a version of the "Mummers Strut" -- a Philadelphia New Year's Day parade tradition.

"It's been pretty tough," said Mother Margaret, gearing up for her day on just four hours sleep.

The Department of Health and Social Services late in the evening of March 26 announced the first long-term care facility coronavirus-related death in Delaware and the first outbreak of positive cases in such a facility in the state. The man who died had underlying medical conditions, according to the state and Mother Margaret.

In addition, six residents of the Newark nursing home tested positive for COVID-19, according to the Division of Public Health, which is actively working with the facility to ensure resident and staff safety.

Mother Margaret said the man's daughter was able to spend 20 minutes with him, and his grandchildren got to see him through a window.

"We are deeply saddened to hear of this individual's death," Dr. Kara Odom Walker, a practicing family physician, who is secretary of the Department of Health and Social Services Secretary, said in a statement released by her office.

"The population who lives in these facilities are at the greatest risk for COVID-19, based on their age and underlying health conditions," she said. "Unfortunately, this death and the confirmed cases at this facility underscore the need for all long-term care facilities in Delaware to follow strict screening protocols for anyone entering their facilities."

After the man's death, Mother Margaret said, state officials spent time with the Little Sisters reviewing best practices and how to protect residents and staff.

A March 22 article in The Dialog, Wilmington's diocesan newspaper, Mother Margaret had outlined steps the home was taking to ensure residents' health.

"It just happened so fast," she said March 27, adding that many residents at Jeanne Jugan suffer from poor health that can be typical for the elderly.

"Some that have it (the virus), they're hanging in there ' still strong," Mother Margaret said. "It's something nobody realized. People are OK for a couple of days, then they show symptoms again.

"Everybody thought they knew it, but it's an invisible enemy."

The death of the resident hit hard in the close-knit, nonprofit continuing care retirement community with about 40 residents.

The man who died had originally moved to the residence more than a dozen years ago with his wife, who preceded him in death several years ago.

"He really loved it here," Mother Margaret said.

The mother superior said the state has recommended additional staffing and the sisters are now asking for volunteers or donations.

- - -

Owens is editor of The Dialog, newspaper of the Diocese of Wilmington.


- - -

Copyright © 2020 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. All rights reserved. Republishing or redistributing of CNS content, including by framing or similar means without prior permission, is prohibited. You may link to stories on our public site. This copy is for your personal, non-commercial use only. To request permission for republishing or redistributing of CNS content, please contact permissions at

COVID-19 is not God's judgment, but a call to live differently, pope says

IMAGE: CNS photo/Yara Nardi, pool via Reuters

By Cindy Wooden

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- The worldwide coronavirus pandemic is not God's judgment on humanity, but God's call on people to judge what is most important to them and resolve to act accordingly from now on, Pope Francis said.

Addressing God, the pope said that "it is not the time of your judgment, but of our judgment: a time to choose what matters and what passes away, a time to separate what is necessary from what is not. It is a time to get our lives back on track with regard to you, Lord, and to others."

Pope Francis offered his meditation on the meaning of the COVID-19 pandemic and its implications for humanity March 27 before raising a monstrance with the Blessed Sacrament and giving an extraordinary blessing "urbi et orbi" (to the city and the world).

Popes usually give their blessing "urbi et orbi" only immediately after their election and on Christmas and Easter.

Pope Francis opened the service -- in a rain-drenched, empty St. Peter's Square -- praying that the "almighty and merciful God" would see how people are suffering and give them comfort. He asked to care for the sick and dying, for medical workers exhausted by caring for the sick and for political leaders who bear the burden of making decisions to protect their people.

The service included the reading of the Gospel of Mark's account of Jesus calming the stormy sea.

"Let us invite Jesus into the boats of our lives," the pope said. "Let us hand over our fears to him so that he can conquer them."

Like the disciples on the stormy Sea of Galilee, he said, "we will experience that, with him on board, there will be no shipwreck, because this is God's strength: turning to the good everything that happens to us, even the bad things."

The Gospel passage began, "When evening had come," and the pope said that with the pandemic and its sickness and death, and with the lockdowns and closures of schools and workplaces, it has felt like "for weeks now it has been evening."

"Thick darkness has gathered over our squares, our streets and our cities; it has taken over our lives, filling everything with a deafening silence and a distressing void that stops everything as it passes by," the pope said. "We feel it in the air, we notice it in people's gestures; their glances give them away.

"We find ourselves afraid and lost," he said. "Like the disciples in the Gospel we were caught off guard by an unexpected, turbulent storm."

However, the pandemic storm has made most people realize that "we are on the same boat, all of us fragile and disoriented," the pope said. And it has shown how each person has a contribution to make, at least in comforting each other.

"On this boat are all of us," he said.

The pandemic, the pope said, has exposed "our vulnerability and uncovers those false and superfluous certainties around which we have constructed our daily schedules, our projects, our habits and priorities."

In the midst of the storm, Pope Francis said, God is calling people to faith, which is not just believing God exists, but turning to him and trusting him.

As Lent and the pandemic go on, he said, God continues to call people to "convert" and "return to me with all your heart."

It is a time to decide to live differently, live better, love more and care for others, he said, and every community is filled with people who can be role models -- individuals, "who, even though fearful, have reacted by giving their lives."

Pope Francis said the Holy Spirit can use the pandemic to "redeem, value and demonstrate how our lives are woven together and sustained by ordinary people -- often forgotten people -- who do not appear in newspaper and magazine headlines," but are serving others and making life possible during the pandemic.

The pope listed "doctors, nurses, supermarket employees, cleaners, caregivers, providers of transport, law and order forces, volunteers, priests, religious men and women and so very many others who have understood that no one reaches salvation by themselves."

"How many people every day are exercising patience and offering hope, taking care to sow not panic but a shared responsibility," he said. And "how many fathers, mothers, grandparents and teachers are showing our children, in small everyday gestures, how to face up to and navigate a crisis by adjusting their routines, lifting their gaze and fostering prayer."

"How many are praying, offering and interceding for the good of all," he said. "Prayer and quiet service: These are our victorious weapons."

In the boat, when the disciples plead with Jesus to do something, Jesus responds, "Why are you afraid? Have you no faith?"

"Lord, your word this evening strikes us and regards us, all of us," the pope said. "In this world that you love more than we do, we have gone ahead at breakneck speed, feeling powerful and able to do anything.

"Greedy for profit, we let ourselves get caught up in things and be lured away by haste. We did not stop at your reproach to us, we were not shaken awake by wars or injustice across the world, nor did we listen to the cry of the poor or of our ailing planet," Pope Francis said.

"We carried on regardless, thinking we would stay healthy in a world that was sick," he said. "Now that we are in a stormy sea, we implore you: 'Wake up, Lord!'"

The Lord is calling on people to "put into practice that solidarity and hope capable of giving strength, support and meaning to these hours when everything seems to be foundering," the pope said.

"The Lord awakens so as to reawaken and revive our Easter faith," he said. "We have an anchor: by his cross we have been saved. We have a rudder: by his cross we have been redeemed. We have a hope: by his cross we have been healed and embraced so that nothing and no one can separate us from his redeeming love."

Pope Francis told people watching around the world that he would "entrust all of you to the Lord, through the intercession of Mary, health of the people, and star of the stormy sea."

"May God's blessing come down upon you as a consoling embrace," he said. "Lord, may you bless the world, give health to our bodies and comfort our hearts. You ask us not to be afraid. Yet our faith is weak, and we are fearful. But you, Lord, will not leave us at the mercy of the storm."

Introducing the formal blessing, Cardinal Angelo Comastri, archpriest of St. Peter's Basilica, announced that it would include a plenary indulgence "in the form established by the church" to everyone watching on television or internet or listening by radio.

An indulgence is a remission of the temporal punishment a person is due for sins that have been forgiven. Catholics following the pope's blessing could receive the indulgence if they had "a spirit detached from sin," promised to go to confession and receive the Eucharist as soon as possible and said a prayer for the pope's intentions.


- - -

Copyright © 2020 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. All rights reserved. Republishing or redistributing of CNS content, including by framing or similar means without prior permission, is prohibited. You may link to stories on our public site. This copy is for your personal, non-commercial use only. To request permission for republishing or redistributing of CNS content, please contact permissions at

Update: Coronavirus means quiet times for maritime ministers in U.S., Canada

IMAGE: CNS photo/courtesy Deacon Wayne Lobell

By Dennis Sadowski

CLEVELAND (CNS) -- Cargo ships from around the world may be docking at the port of Charleston, South Carolina, but for Deacon Paul Rosenblum, the days are pretty quiet.

As the lone port minister for the Diocese of Charleston's Apostleship of the Sea ministry, Deacon Rosenblum, 66, has opted for staying off the ships so he doesn't accidentally bring any illness -- the new coronavirus or otherwise -- to seafarers.

"I'm not going on ships unless they make a request for me to come onboard," he said. "That's an oddity right now. Most of the foreign crews are self-isolating. The American crews are not so diligent about things."

Deacon Rosenblum works with the Charleston Port and Seafarers' Society to serve the crews of oceangoing vessels. He works alongside an Episcopal priest and an administrator. The ministry involves talking with crew members, offering rides for shopping, staffing a seafarer center and simply being present.

Not personally meeting seafarers makes it difficult to minister to their personal and spiritual needs. But all involved know that it's for the better for the time being, he said.

Deacon Rosenblum understands the seafarers, almost exclusively young men, must keep themselves safe from illness. At sea, there's no access to care outside of basic first aid and it can be days between ports of call. An illness can spread quickly among the crew, who spend much of their time in tight quarters.

By law, a ship's captain must report any illness on board to the U.S. Coast Guard before docking. In shipping, time is money, and any illness can cause a delay in delivering millions of dollars of cargo.

The coronavirus has disrupted the routines of Catholic port ministers across the U.S. and Canada. Deacon Jose Deleon, 68, who works with the Archdiocese of Seattle's Catholic Seafarers Ministry, said he last visited a ship March 19. "We're pretty much down to zero," he said.

Deacon Wayne Lobell, who runs the Stella Maris Maritime Center West for the Archdiocese of New Orleans, has shut down his outreach efforts because of the exponential growth in reported COVID-19 cases in southern Louisiana.

"The detriment is we can be more of a problem to them than they are to us," Deacon Lobell, 69, told Catholic News Service March 25.

"For the past two weeks, I haven't had any calls at all. I don't know if the agents are telling them (seafarers) to stay on board. We don't want to deny them to come to shore, but it could be more of a problem if they got off. They they'd have to clean the entire ship. We've decided to stay away from that," Deacon Lobell said.

Deacon Dileep Athaide, 70, is coordinator of the archdiocesan Catholic chaplaincy service in the port of Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada's largest. He said port officials had closed the seafarers center, a place where crew members could gather, arrange for rides for shopping, buy cellphone SIM cards or hang out. The center is the place where Deacon Athaide often interacted with seafarers. Not now.

"They're just being safe," Deacon Athaide said.

In normal times, the deacons would lead Communion services on ships when time allowed. They distributed rosaries and prayer cards, delivered specialty baked goods, and counsel the men who often are away from home for up to 10 months at a time.

Even before the onset of COVID-19, the need for such basic services has declined as port stops have been shortened through automation. Ships unload and reload in a matter of hours, leaving little time for crew members to take care of personal needs and less time for a minister to conduct even a 15-miniute prayer service, the deacons said.

Many of the crews primarily consist of Filipinos. Indians also are common, while some East Europeans are occasionally are on board. Hailing from a predominantly Catholic country, Filipinos most often appreciate the outreach, Deacon Deleon said.

"In some cases, they'd want to go to confession," said Deacon Deleon, himself a Filipino. "I'm trying to schedule a priest to come whenever I can to come with me. But that is very rare."

Deacon Rosenblum in Charleston has made friends with some crew members, keeping in touch via social media or email. Once in a while an old friend will return to port and both seek out each other. But mostly, he said he realizes he won't see the men he meets ever again.

"I tell people they minister to me as much as I minister to them," he said.

Beyond the ship crews, the deacons said they maintain good relationships with port staff, including the pilots who meet a ship and guide a captain through a harbor into a berth. Deacon Lobell in New Orleans said one river pilot, who is a devout Catholic, often acts as his eyes and ears on a ship and points out someone who is in special need. The pilot also has been authorized as an extraordinary minister of holy Communion by the archdiocese and will distribute the Eucharist -- when there's time.

For now, until the COVID-19 pandemic eases, the deacons will continue to show up at the ports, hoping to be of service to anyone they run into, be they seafarers, longshoremen or security officials.

"We'll see," Deacon Athaide said. "It's such a fluid situation. It's changing all the time."

- - -

Follow Sadowski on Twitter: @DennisSadowski


- - -

Copyright © 2020 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. All rights reserved. Republishing or redistributing of CNS content, including by framing or similar means without prior permission, is prohibited. You may link to stories on our public site. This copy is for your personal, non-commercial use only. To request permission for republishing or redistributing of CNS content, please contact permissions at

During pandemic, priests work to bridge distance between deceased, family

IMAGE: CNS photo/Flavio Lo Scalzo, Reuters

By Carol Glatz

ROME (CNS) -- When Father Mario Carminati went to bless the remains of one of his parishioners, he called the deceased man's daughter on WhatsApp so they could pray together.

"One of his daughters is in Turin and couldn't take part," he said, the Catholic magazine Famiglia Cristiana reported March 26. "It was very emotional," as she was able to pray with them through the messaging service, said the parish priest from Seriate, near Bergamo.

Capuchin Father Aquilino Apassiti, an 84-year-old hospital chaplain in Bergamo, said he sets his mobile phone near the deceased so the loved one on the other end can pray with him, the magazine said.

They are some of the many priests and religious trying to bridge the forced distance between those who have died from COVID-19 and the people they leave behind. The Diocese of Bergamo has set up a special service, "A Heart That Listens," where people can call or email for spiritual, emotional or psychological support from trained professionals.

With funerals forbidden nationwide, these ministers are also offering blessings and a dignified temporary place of rest before the departed's ultimate burial.

For example, Father Carminati made one of the churches in his area available for the remains of 45 people awaiting cremation. Because the one crematorium in Bergamo has long been unable to handle the number of dead each day, convoys of army trucks were being deployed to take the dead to the nearest crematoria more than 100 miles away.

With the pews pushed to the side walls of the church of St. Joseph, Father Carminati and an assistant went up and down the central nave, sprinkling holy water over coffins, according to a video report posted by the Italian daily, Il Giornale.

It was better the coffins be in the church awaiting transport than in a warehouse, because "at least we say a prayer, and here they are already in the house of the Father," Father Carminati said in the video report March 26.

After the coffins are taken away for cities further south, more coffins take their place each day.

The 45 bodies Father Carminati blessed were welcomed later in the day by church and city officials when they arrived for cremation in the province of Ferrara. Father Daniele Panzeri, Mayor Fabrizio Pagnoni and Maj. Giorgio Feola of the military police prayed for the dead upon their arrival, and two officers wearing medical masks held a flowering orchid, Bergamo News reported March 26.

After cremation, the ashes of the 45 dead and another 68 deceased were transported back again to Bergamo, where they were blessed by Bishop Francesco Beschi of Bergamo during a solemn ceremony with the city's mayor, Giorgio Gori, and local police officers.

To help fill the void of no funeral services or public gatherings to mourn and pray, Bishop Beschi was inviting the entire province of Bergamo to join with him March 27 for a televised and online broadcast of a moment of prayer from the city cemetery to remember those who have died.

Cardinal Crescenzio Sepe of Naples also visited his city's main cemetery March 27 to bless and pray for the dead. It was the same day Pope Francis was holding a worldwide moment of prayer in the evening from an empty St. Peter's Square.

Official figures from the national civil protection agency have said more than 8,000 people have died in Italy from COVID-19 as of March 26, with spikes in mid-March between 620 and 790 deaths a day.

However, city officials in the northern Lombardy region have said the number of COVID-19-related deaths could be as much as four times higher, because official figures only count those who have been tested for the coronavirus.

City officials, who have been registering all deaths, not just those attributed to COVID-19, have flagged the high anomalous numbers of people who are dying at home or in nursing homes from pneumonia, respiratory failure or cardiac arrest and are not tested.

For example, Francesco Bramani, the mayor of the small town of Dalmine, told the newspaper L'Eco di Bergamo March 22 that the town had registered 70 deaths, and only two were officially linked to coronavirus. They had only 18 deaths during the same period last year, he said.

While hospital personnel struggle with those in their care, morticians and funeral service workers have been dealing with the massive and underreported number of dead.

Alessandro Bosi, secretary of the Italian federation of funeral service agencies, told Adnkronos news agency March 24 that those working in the sector in the north have not been able to get the personal protection and disinfectants needed when they transport the deceased.

One of the reasons there has been a problem with transporting the deceased in certain areas of the north is not just because of the spike in deaths, but also because many workers and businesses have been put under quarantine.

"So instead of there being 10 businesses operating, there are only three, and this makes the work harder" and is why the army and others had to be called in to help, he said.

"While it is true we are in second place (in the field of health care) what if we, who carry the dead, all get sick?"

When asked in an interview with about how families are handling the difficult situation of not being allowed to have a funeral for their loved one, Bosi said people have been enormously responsible and collaborative.

"Families, who have been denied a funeral service, understand the orders are the right thing and that (services) have been postponed in order to avoid situations that could worsen the contagion," he said the March 20 interview.

"Many people have made arrangements with funeral services and priests to symbolically celebrate the deceased when this time of emergency is over."


- - -

Copyright © 2020 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. All rights reserved. Republishing or redistributing of CNS content, including by framing or similar means without prior permission, is prohibited. You may link to stories on our public site. This copy is for your personal, non-commercial use only. To request permission for republishing or redistributing of CNS content, please contact permissions at

Vatican releases pope's pandemic-influenced plan for Holy Week, Easter

IMAGE: CNS photo/Junno Arocho Esteves

By Junno Arocho Esteves

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- With public gatherings, including Masses, banned in Italy to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, the Vatican published an updated version of Pope Francis' schedule for Holy Week and Easter.

In a March 27 statement, the Vatican said that all Holy Week celebrations will be celebrated at the Altar of the Chair in St. Peter's Basilica "without the participation of the people."

The Vatican also said the release of the updated schedule takes into account the provisions made by the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Sacraments.

Cardinal Robert Sarah, prefect of the congregation, said in a decree dated March 20 that because the chrism Mass is not formally part of the Triduum, a bishop can decide to postpone its celebration.

For the first time, the pope's schedule for Holy Week does not include the chrism Mass, which is usually celebrated the morning of Holy Thursday. During the liturgy, priests renew their promises and the oils used for the sacraments are blessed.

This year also will be the first time Pope Francis will celebrate the evening Mass of the Lord's Supper in the Vatican instead of at a prison, hospital or other institution. The Congregation for Divine Worship said that "the washing of feet, which is already optional, is to be omitted" when there are no faithful present.

The congregation also said that bishops should advise the faithful of the times for the celebrations, so that they can pray at home at the same time.

Here is the updated schedule of papal liturgical ceremonies for Holy Week and Easter released by the Vatican (times listed are local):

-- April 5, Palm Sunday, 11 a.m.

-- April 9, Holy Thursday, Mass of the Lord's Supper 6 p.m.

-- April 10, Good Friday, 6 p.m. liturgy of the Lord's passion.

-- April 10, Way of the Cross, 9 p.m., in front of St. Peter's Basilica.

-- April 11, Easter vigil Mass, 9 p.m.

-- April 12, Easter morning Mass, 11 a.m. followed by the pope's blessing "urbi et orbi" (to the city and the world).

- - -

Follow Arocho on Twitter: @arochoju

- - -

Copyright © 2020 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. All rights reserved. Republishing or redistributing of CNS content, including by framing or similar means without prior permission, is prohibited. You may link to stories on our public site. This copy is for your personal, non-commercial use only. To request permission for republishing or redistributing of CNS content, please contact permissions at

Pope thanks those who help, pray for vulnerable during pandemic

IMAGE: CNS photo/Vatican Media

By Junno Arocho Esteves

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Pope Francis expressed his gratitude to the many men and women who have been inspired to help the poor and accompany the sick and the elderly during the coronavirus pandemic.

"These days, news has arrived of how many people are beginning to have a general concern for others -- caring about the families who do not have enough to get by, the elderly who are alone, the sick in the hospitals -- and who pray and try to give them some help," the pope said March 27 at the beginning of his livestreamed morning Mass.

"This is a good sign," he said. "Let us thank the Lord for stirring up these feelings in the hearts of his faithful."

The papal almoner's office announced March 26 that the pope was donating 30 ventilators to "hospitals in the areas most affected by the COVID-19 pandemic."

The hospitals that will receive the new ventilators "will be identified in the coming days," the papal almoner's office said.

In his homily, the pope reflected on the day's first reading from the Book of Wisdom, which describes the criticism of the wicked toward the righteous person who "reproaches us for transgressions of the law."

"For if the just one be the son of God, he will defend him and deliver him from the hand of his foes. With revilement and torture, let us put him to the test that we may have proof of his gentleness and try his patience," the reading stated.

The pope said the reading was a prophecy that accurately described those who taunted Jesus on the cross, demanding he prove that he was the son of God. The ones who mocked Christ were not motivated by "simple hatred" but a "relentless fury," the pope said.

"Behind all fury, there is the devil who seeks to destroy God's work. Behind an argument or an enmity, it could be the devil (working) from afar with normal temptations," he said. "But when there is fury, there is no doubt: there is the presence of the devil."

This demonic fury, he continued, could be seen not only in those who acted against Jesus but also in the persecutions of Christians to "lead them to apostasy, to distance themselves from God."

The pope recalled a story from bishops in "one of the countries that suffered under the dictatorship of an atheist regime" and the lengths that the authorities would go to persecute Christians.

"On the Monday after Easter, the teachers were forced to ask the children: 'What did you eat yesterday?'" the pope recalled. "Some said, 'Eggs' and those who said 'eggs' were then persecuted to see if they were Christians because in that country they ate eggs on Easter Sunday. It got to this point: to see, to spy where there is a Christian in order to kill him. This is fury in persecution and this is the devil."

The only way Christians can respond to this fury is to follow the example set forth by Christ and to remain silent, the pope said.

"It is striking when we read in the Gospel that in front of all these accusations, all these things, Jesus was silent. In front of the spirit of fury, only silence, never justification. Never! Jesus spoke and he explained. When he understood that there were no words, silence," he said.

Pope Francis prayed that Christians would ask for the grace "to fight against the evil spirit, to argue when we have to argue. But before the spirit of fury, to have the courage to keep silent and let others speak."

- - -

Follow Arocho on Twitter: @arochoju

- - -

Copyright © 2020 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. All rights reserved. Republishing or redistributing of CNS content, including by framing or similar means without prior permission, is prohibited. You may link to stories on our public site. This copy is for your personal, non-commercial use only. To request permission for republishing or redistributing of CNS content, please contact permissions at

Coronavirus may produce misery beyond disease to migrants, home countries

IMAGE: CNS photo/Lindsey Wasson, Reuters

By Rhina Guidos

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Lack of jobs and economic disparity in Central America were already driving large numbers of migrants north before the coronavirus became a household word.

And now those who long have worked with migrants worry about the effects COVID-19 will cause on the already fragile economic systems of the migrants' home countries. They also worry about the environment the pandemic is creating for those migrants on the move and in new lands.  

Father Mauro Verzeletti, a Catholic priest who has for decades helped feed and shelter migrants in Central America, said he has received scant news about what migrants are currently facing after the government of Guatemala ordered a quarantine and he had to close the doors of the Casa del Migrante, one of the shelters he runs in Guatemala City. 

Father Verzeletti already was in a quarantine of sorts because the government forbid him from leaving the shelter after he received death threats in January for his work with migrants.

But he was able to see and hear stories from those who came through the shelter and had knowledge of what was going on before the quarantine was put in place.

"Now we're not receiving any news, we don't know how people are faring," he said in a March 26 telephone interview with Catholic News Service.

He's now sheltering in place with two migrant families and the superior of his order, the Scalabrinians, who was visiting when the national quarantine was put in place, shutting down flights.

But watching the news, he's learned of the scarcity of items in the stores. He worries about those who've lost their jobs, including those whose only means of making a living was by selling household items or produce on the streets in the "informal economy" that stocks the popular markets of Latin America. What will the economies and conditions of countries such as Guatemala look like after the coronavirus is over, he asked.

"Famine?" he said.

He also worries about those migrants who were making the journey when the crisis hit, about the conditions in detention they're facing in places such as the U.S., which he said already had a less than stellar record of treating detained migrants, including children and families, humanely.

Those worries are shared by groups in the U.S., including the Hope Border Institute in El Paso, Texas.
In its March 16, Frontera Dispatch, a newsletter about conditions along the border region of El Paso, the organization voiced worries about the potential for a breakout of the virus in migrant camps that have formed just over the border as a result of the U.S. policy popularly called "Remain in Mexico."

Formally known as the Migrant Protection Controls, or MPP, the policy asks those seeking asylum in the U.S. to wait in Mexico until a U.S. immigration court can adjudicate their case.

The organization worries about the medical conditions but also how a spread of the coronavirus in those communities can be used politically in an election year to further restrict asylum-seekers from seeking protection in the U.S.

"The prospect of the virus reaching migrant camps at the northern border is alarming," the organization said. "Camps like the one in Matamoros (across from El Paso) house thousands of people and have no proper sanitation or infrastructure and limited access to medical supplies.

"Migrants living there (many in the MPP program) are mostly at risk from American volunteers, but if it (the virus) showed up at the border, the Trump administration would seize the opportunity to throw the blame on migrants and further restrict their rights."

Groups such as the National Advocacy Center of the Sisters of the Good Shepherd argue that if there's a time to help those seeking shelter, it's now.

"The world is gripped in fear and crisis. Many of these men, women and children have journeyed for weeks and months. They have left unspeakable violence. Now is most certainly not the time to force them to huddle in unsafe conditions in Mexico as the coronavirus sweeps across our globe," said Lawrence E. Couch, the center's director.

"Closer to the American spirit can be found in the recent announcement that because of coronavirus, ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) will stop its cruel rounding up of immigrants who pose no threat to the public," he added. "The Border Patrol should do the same and allow refugees to pass and find safety in the United States."


- - -

Copyright © 2020 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. All rights reserved. Republishing or redistributing of CNS content, including by framing or similar means without prior permission, is prohibited. You may link to stories on our public site. This copy is for your personal, non-commercial use only. To request permission for republishing or redistributing of CNS content, please contact permissions at

Texas Catholic family's quarantine dancing video goes viral

IMAGE: CNS photo/ courtesy Texas Catholic Herald

By James Ramos

HOUSTON (CNS) -- When health officials recommended self-isolation to slow the spread of the coronavirus, Ali Hoffman and her parents, Michael and Michele, found themselves quarantined in their Fort Worth-area home.

In their boredom, they donned their "party pants" and filmed a short video of themselves dancing in the kitchen to "Hold My Hand" by Jess Glynne. There's no formal choreography. But lip syncing, slow motion, air drums, and piano and trumpet -- as well as floor slides a la Tom Cruise's "Risky Business" dance -- all abound. At one point, jazz hands beckon Ali's mother into the frame for her cameo.

Within 72 hours of Ali's March 21 Facebook post, the video went viral, racking up nearly 5 million views and more than 183,000 shares.

But this isn't the first time the Hoffman family went viral online.

Five years ago, a winter storm froze the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex. Icy roads kept Ali and her parents inside.

Perhaps in an effort to warm up in the frigid temperatures, an impromptu dance party broke out in the family's kitchen. The third youngest in the family of six, Ali recorded and posted a video of the one-take performance to her Facebook account. Since its February 2015 posting, the video, which featured Ali and her parents dancing to "Uptown Funk" by popstar Bruno Mars, has been viewed more than 13 million times.

The irony of their new video's song choice wasn't lost on Ali or Michael.

"It's a fun song to dance to," 29-year-old Ali told the Texas Catholic Herald, newspaper of the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston, in a phone interview from their family's Carrollton, Texas, home.

"But please don't hold my hand," Michael said, referring to the current health recommendations by authorities nationwide to avoid physical contact to slow the coronavirus spread.

Despite the viral fame, which vaulted all six members of the Hoffman family to prime-time stardom when ABC's "Dance Battle America" showcased the family in 2015, the father and daughter look for the simple joys in life amid a world that is "shutting down" all around them.

The sentiment is the same as it was in 2015: to choose and interject "joy and levity into the situation," Ali said. "If you're at home, don't give into despair and fear."

The father and daughter admit their lives, just like millions around the world, have been rapidly changing.

Ali, youth ministry director at St. Catherine of Siena Catholic Church in Carrollton, has been observing self-isolation and social distancing for more than a week. Since her parish suspended all in-person ministry in mid-March, Ali has been hosting online hand-lettering workshops through her project "The Oodles of Doodles" on social media for those staying at home who are looking to pick up a new skill.

The isolation has helped her to take stock of what she truly needs, as well as check on her community of friends and family in a time of social distancing.

The time has "definitely put an emphasis on sacrifice," Ali said. "It really put into perspective. ... 'Do I really trust in Jesus?'"

For example, Michael and Michele can't visit their newest granddaughter, who was born March 1, and Ali can't minister in person with the youth she's seen nearly weekly since last August. And Michael, a motivational speaker, has seen waves of event and conference cancellations slow down his typically busy spring schedule.

With regions across the country, including Ali's own Dallas County, going into lock down, Michael finds being sheltered at home timely for the Lenten liturgical season.

"Being (older) than Ali, (Michele and I) have been through a few things. This too shall pass. This is a season," he said. "We'll be able to say that we let the joy shine a little bit. There's no such thing as darkness. ... You can't hold it. It doesn't grow. Darkness is the absence of light and in these times, God's asking all of his people to be more light."

While government officials issued orders to self-isolate, Ali and Michael issued their own challenge to other families to post their quarantine dance videos using the hashtag #QuarantineChallenge2k20, which has seen dozens of videos.

Dan Solomon, a writer at Texas Monthly magazine, noticed Ali and Michael's "penchant for dance" and called the challenge "charmingly earnest" during the "strangest days many of us have ever lived through."

"While we all struggle to find ways to center ourselves amid the crisis, let's take a moment to gratefully acknowledge the Hoffman family for their dedication to dancing through this thing," he wrote.

The family remained focused on what they can do despite not knowing what the result might be.

"We're trying to change things and fix things to make it the outcome that we want. We're taking good measures," Ali said. "But I think this just reminds us that we're just human and we're in this together and there's a lot of fear, but there can also be a lot of light in that."

As in 2015, the family's viral videos prompted a flood of messages to Ali's inbox, most of which reflect two thoughts. Ali sees viewers sharing fond, joyful family memories with her, and a greater wish and a deeper need for community and the universal aspect of longing.

The video "does touch on the humanity" of a world in self-isolation, Ali said, noting the other viral videos of Italians and Spaniards singing from their balconies and rooftops during their mandatory quarantines.

And while everyone in the world may not have a balcony for singing, Ali said everyone has a kitchen or a room for dancing.

"Lift up your head from your belly; don't be a belly gazer and keep your head up," she said. "We're all in this together."

- - -

Editor's Note: To view the video, visit Find Ali Hoffman on social media at

- - -

Ramos is a staff writer and designer for the Texas Catholic Herald, newspaper of the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston.


- - -

Copyright © 2020 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. All rights reserved. Republishing or redistributing of CNS content, including by framing or similar means without prior permission, is prohibited. You may link to stories on our public site. This copy is for your personal, non-commercial use only. To request permission for republishing or redistributing of CNS content, please contact permissions at

Pandemic casts spotlight on a nearly forgotten martyr: St. Corona

IMAGE: CNS photo/Thilo Schmuelgen, Reuters


BONN, Germany (CNS) -- She had become nearly forgotten. Little is known about the young woman who was killed for her Christian faith, presumably in the second century A.D. But now, a pandemic is shedding light on her: St. Corona.

The German Catholic news agency KNA reports the church's martyr records put the year of her death at 177 A.D. It is not certain where she lived. A Greek account put it in Syria, while a Latin one said it was Marseilles, France, and Sicily. What is proven is that she began to be honored starting in the sixth century in northern and central Italy. All the rest is the stuff of legend -- propagated above all by monks in the Alpine region.

"This has nothing to do with the real history of Corona, but instead with stories aimed at deepening the faith," said Manfred Becker-Huberti, a German theologian known in the Rhineland as an expert on folklore and customs.

The St. Corona legends are bloody. One account is that, as a 16-year-old, she was forced to watch her husband, St. Victor, being murdered because of his faith. She died in a gruesome manner: Her persecutors tied her between two palm trees that had been bent to the ground. Her body was then torn apart when the trees were set loose to snap back into standing position.

She is above all revered in Germany's southern state of Bavaria and in Austria, KNA reports. A chapel is dedicated to her in Sauerlach, near Munich. In the Bavarian Diocese of Passau, two churches recall her name, while in the province of Lower Austria and outside of Vienna there are two towns named "Sankt Corona." In the cathedral of Munster in northwestern Germany, there is a St. Corona statue, currently decorated with flowers placed at its base. Some relics of the martyr were taken to the Prague cathedral in the 14th century.

As early as the 10th century, under Holy Roman Emperor Otto III, St. Corona relics were taken to Aachen. In 1910, during excavation work at the cathedral there, archaeologists came across the relics, which were removed from a crypt and placed in a shrine. This three-foot-tall, 220-pound relic has, until recently, been kept in storage in the Aachen cathedral treasure vault. With the coronavirus pandemic, experts have taken it out to dust it off and conserve it.

St. Corona is not the namesake for the virus. The Latin word "corona" means "crown," an indication that the young saint had achieved the "crown of eternal life" because of the steadfastness of her faith. The connection with the coronaviruses, named because of their crown-like structure, is just a coincidence.

Over the centuries, St. Corona was often prayed to by people seeking her help in times of trouble, be it heavy storms or livestock diseases.

People believed she had a positive influence regarding money matters, with "coronae" (crowns) being the name given to coins. As a result, treasure-hunters often invoked her name. In view of how COVID-19 has triggered an economic crisis, with many people fearful about money matters looming ahead, it might not be at all far-fetched for them to call on the saint for support.

In the Catholic Church's calendar of saints, her holiday is May 14. KNA reports some experts say it just might be by then that the light at the end of the pandemic tunnel will be in sight.


- - -

Copyright © 2020 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. All rights reserved. Republishing or redistributing of CNS content, including by framing or similar means without prior permission, is prohibited. You may link to stories on our public site. This copy is for your personal, non-commercial use only. To request permission for republishing or redistributing of CNS content, please contact permissions at

What is a plenary indulgence?

IMAGE: CNS photo/Guglielmo Mangiapane, Reuters

By Carol Glatz

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Pope Francis said he will grant a plenary indulgence to the faithful who watch or listen to his extraordinary blessing "urbi et orbi" (to the city and the world) at 6 p.m. Rome time March 27.

Special indulgences have also been granted to those suffering from COVID-19, their caregivers, friends and family and those who help them with their prayers.

But what is this ancient practice of offering indulgences through prayer and penance and what is needed to receive them?

An indulgence is not a quick ticket to heaven, as St. John Paul II once said; rather, it is an aid for the real conversion that leads to eternal happiness.

Sins are forgiven through the sacrament of penance, but then there is a kind of punishment still due the sinner, the late pope explained during a general audience in 1999.

God's fatherly love "does not exclude chastisement, even though this always should be understood in the context of a merciful justice which reestablishes the order violated," he said.

The pope had said the "temporal" punishment that remains after forgiveness is a grace aimed at wiping away the "residues of sin," offering the reformed sinner the chance of complete healing through "a journey of purification" that can take place in this life or in purgatory.

By God's grace, participation in a prayer or action that has an indulgence attached to it brings about the necessary restoration and reparation without the suffering that would normally accompany it. It frees a person from the punishment their sinfulness warrants as it is a remission of the temporal punishment a person is due for sins that have been forgiven.

The granting of an indulgence by the church is "the expression of the church's full confidence of being heard by the Father when, in view of Christ's merits and, by his gift, those of Our Lady and the saints, she asks him to mitigate or cancel the painful aspect of punishment by fostering its medicinal aspect through other channels of grace," the late pope said.

An indulgence, then, is the result of the abundance of God's mercy, which he offers to humanity through Jesus Christ and through the church, he said.

But this gift cannot be received automatically or simply by fulfilling a few exterior requirements nor can it be approached with a superficial attitude, St. John Paul said.

The reception of an indulgence depends on "our turning away from sin and our conversion to God," he said.

That is why there are several conditions for receiving an indulgence:

-- A spirit detached from sin.

-- Sacramental confession as soon as possible.

-- Eucharistic communion as soon as possible.

-- Prayer for the Holy Father's intentions.

-- Being united spiritually through the media to the pope's special prayer and blessing on March 27.

Those who are sick and their caregivers can also unite themselves spiritually whenever possible through the media to the celebration of Mass or the recitation of the rosary or the Stations of the Cross or other forms of devotion, according to Cardinal Mauro Piacenza, head of the Apostolic Penitentiary, a Vatican court that deals with matters of conscience and with indulgences.

If this is not possible, "they are asked to recite the Creed, the Lord's Prayer and an invocation to Mary," he told Vatican News March 21.

"All others -- those who offer prayers for the souls of the dead, those who suffer and plead for an end to the pandemic -- are asked, where possible, to visit the Blessed Sacrament or to participate in eucharistic adoration. Alternatively, (they can) read the Holy Scriptures for at least half an hour or recite the rosary or the Way of the Cross," he said.

The faithful can claim the indulgence for themselves or offer it on behalf of someone who has died. 


- - -

Copyright © 2020 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. All rights reserved. Republishing or redistributing of CNS content, including by framing or similar means without prior permission, is prohibited. You may link to stories on our public site. This copy is for your personal, non-commercial use only. To request permission for republishing or redistributing of CNS content, please contact permissions at

Pope prays that world may overcome fear

IMAGE: CNS photo/Vatican Media

By Junno Arocho Esteves

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Pope Francis offered his early morning Mass for vulnerable people and health care workers who live in fear that they or their loved ones may fall ill to the coronavirus pandemic sweeping the world.

"In these days of so much suffering, there is so much fear," the pope said March 26 at the start of the Mass, which was livestreamed from the chapel of his residence, the Domus Sanctae Marthae.

Pope Francis spoke specifically of "the fear of the elderly who are alone in retirement homes or in hospitals or in their own homes and do not know what could happen; the fear of workers without a steady job who think about how they will feed their children and see hunger coming; the fear of many social servants who in these moments help society move forward and could get sick."

But he also acknowledged "the fear -- the fears -- of each one of us," and prayed that God "would help us to have trust and to tolerate and overcome fear."

In his homily, the pope reflected on the first reading from the Book of Exodus, which recounts how the Israelites made a golden calf and began to worship it.

"It was a true apostasy!" the pope explained. "From the living God to idolatry; they did not have the patience to wait for Moses to come back. They wanted something new, they wanted something, a liturgical spectacle."

The pope said the sin of the Israelites revealed the "idolatrous nostalgia" for the certainties they had even as slaves in Egypt.

"This nostalgia is a disease, even for us. One begins to walk with the enthusiasm of being free, but then the complaints begin," he said. "Idolatry is always selective; it makes you think about the good things it gives you but doesn't make you see the bad things. In this case, they thought about how they were at their table, with such good meals they liked so much, but they forgot that this was the table of slavery."

Idolatry, he continued, also caused the Israelites to lose everything, including the gold and silver they had received from Egypt after their liberation.

"This also happens to us," the pope said. "When we have attitudes that lead us to idolatry, we are attached to things that alienate us from God so we make another god and we make it with the gifts God has given us; with intelligence, with will, with love, with the heart. Those are the gifts of the Lord we use to do idolatry."

Pope Francis invited Christians to ask themselves what their idols are and warned that idolatry can "lead to a mistaken religiosity," which can "change the celebration of a sacrament into a worldly feast."

"Take for example a wedding celebration," he said. "You don't know whether it's sacrament where the newlyweds give each other everything and love each other in front of God and promise to be faithful before God and receive the grace of God, or if it's a fashion show with the way this one or that one is dressed. It is worldliness, it is idolatry."

The pope prayed that at the end of our lives, God would not be able to say, "You have perverted yourself. You have strayed from the path I had indicated. You have prostrated yourself before an idol."

- - -

Follow Arocho on Twitter: @arochoju


- - -

Copyright © 2020 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. All rights reserved. Republishing or redistributing of CNS content, including by framing or similar means without prior permission, is prohibited. You may link to stories on our public site. This copy is for your personal, non-commercial use only. To request permission for republishing or redistributing of CNS content, please contact permissions at

Update: Reaching out, learning names, holding tight in Rome's lockdown

IMAGE: CNS photo/Nancy McNally

By Nancy McNally

ROME (CNS) -- "School was just canceled," I said to my kids March 4.

Dario, 16, and Adriana, 15, were jumping for joy in our living room, which is still a bit of a shambles since we only moved back to Rome in January, just in time for the coronavirus global pandemic, with Italy set to become its epicenter.

For myself, a newly single mother in Rome, I saw endless weeks stretching ahead of me, characterized by largely unstructured time. I had relocated to Rome after six years away, and the point was to eventually find gainful employment, once I had managed to smooth my kids' somewhat precipitous transition into Italian public schools after having studied in international schools first in Kenya and then for a short time in Myanmar, before I decided to pack it in and move home.

Shortly after the school closure, the government announced a lockdown beginning March 8 of the Lombardy region in the north, and a nationwide lockdown soon followed. On March 12, the World Health Organization announced that COVID-19 is officially a pandemic.

How would I describe the ensuing weeks? It sounds ridiculous, but in a word: exhausting. And it's all but given we will be under a lockdown far beyond the originally announced April 3.

I am now the sole caretaker of two kids, a medium-sized dog and two cats.

My teenage son, oblivious to concerns beyond his own, initially harangued me about finding him a LAN cable for max internet speeds while gaming. And he wants curtains in his room, because people are always hanging out in their windows with nothing else to do but to gawk outside and shout to the neighbors across the way, Roman style.

Meanwhile, gradually, the fish stalls at my local market began shutting down. "I'm afraid," said my regular fishmonger, Laura, as she and her husband shuttered their operation for what she said would be a week, maybe more. Days later, most of the fish sellers were gone. It made sense, I told myself, as the fish won't keep, deliveries along a supply chain in refrigerated trucks might be difficult, and I guess even fishing would be a risk for transmission of the novel coronavirus.

But I find myself worrying about milk, and when that, too, might disappear.

My teens are no longer in school. While for the first 10 days or so of quarantine I reveled in the fact I could pick up clams at an 80% discount, now the cooking, the cleaning, the cooking and cleaning again, the laundry, the food shopping, walking the dog and then applying for jobs on the side is just that: absolutely exhausting.

Last Saturday, I hit a wall. I felt sick. Did I have the coronavirus? That is, after all, the greatest fear, and another source of exhaustion. I fear I leave the house too often to go food shopping, because in Europe we don't have gargantuan refrigerators. Who would take care of my kids if I were to fall sick?

Exhaustion also comes from fitful sleep, with worries about our health and the health of family and friends.

For all its failings, I'm on Facebook a lot these days, which helps, and I've started just picking up the phone, like we used to do before calling people out of the blue became seen as being intrusive.

It annoys me to see some of the clueless blathering and joking around about this crisis in the United States, which maybe reminds me of myself when I was making spaghetti with discounted clams. How long can we sustain this, with my butcher, my greengrocer and others all saying they're going under financially?

Yesterday in the supermarket, I saw a Somali woman I met years ago. She recognized me as we passed each other in the milk aisle, keeping our distance -- masks on, gloves on and the whole shebang. She was one of the people who gave me such a warm welcome when I returned to Rome in January. She bought me a cappuccino at the time, and we sat and talked like old friends. After all these years, now I know her name: Amina.

Through the muffling masks at a distance (she moved across to the pasta section), we talked about our families.

"They didn't want me to come to the supermarket, but what else can I do?" Amina said.

I said I know the feeling -- when you're not working, you're trying to make ends meet, and you cannot stock up for weeks in advance and just shut yourself off from the outside world. She has a son with special needs and an aged mother at home. She is also a single mother, which I discovered over our cappuccino in January.

Amina is among the dozens of people I hadn't seen in years, part of that subtle social fabric that we call home and that I took for granted. Since January, I've made a point of learning all these people's names -- the people I would always chat with while having my espresso, at the market, at the supermarket or at the corner pizza shop. Upon my return, I found it so deeply sad and somehow wrong that I didn't know so many people's names when I used to see them almost every single day.

Today, I'm going to call Amina. The other day, it was my college roommate who got the call. Her husband is helping expand the ICU at the hospital where he works in Connecticut, preparing for an influx of coronavirus patients. The day before that, I spoke with a great love I had just before I left on my journey to Italy, half of Africa, a short stop in Asia and back to Italy. Tomorrow, I'll call the lady where -- when not under lockdown -- I take my morning cappuccino, another single mom with three outstanding grown boys. Her name is Adriana, like my daughter, whose name is strong like that of a Roman emperor.

My Dad, a gentle soul, knew everyone's names everywhere he went. I realize now in my middle age that he wasn't just a corny guy, but that he had a grasp of something many of us never seize upon, or maybe we've lost increasingly over time.

Reach out to your neighbors, your friends, those people you chitchat with every day. Offer to do the grocery shopping, or whatever someone needs. Be connected until we can see each other again, and hold tight -- now, but also when we come through this together on the other side of the epidemic curve.


- - -

Copyright © 2020 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. All rights reserved. Republishing or redistributing of CNS content, including by framing or similar means without prior permission, is prohibited. You may link to stories on our public site. This copy is for your personal, non-commercial use only. To request permission for republishing or redistributing of CNS content, please contact permissions at

Ethicists, lawyers see dangers in rationing of scarce health resources

IMAGE: CNS photo/Andrew Kelly, Reuters

By Nancy Frazier O'Brien

BALTIMORE (CNS) -- Catholic ethicists and legal experts are sounding the alarm that the scarcity of resources such as ventilators and hospital beds during the current coronavirus pandemic could prompt health care decisions based only on age and disability -- and in some cases already is.

Decisions on life-saving care based solely on those criteria are unjust, discriminatory and a violation of federal civil rights law, they say.

One of the strongest and most persistent voices has been that of Charles Camosy, an associate professor of theological and social ethics at Fordham University in New York, one of the hardest-hit U.S. cities.

"It should not be up to physicians to decide whose subjective quality of life deserves to be prolonged," he wrote in a March 19 opinion piece in the New York Post. "If rationing arrives, we must stand up unambiguously for the marginalized and vulnerable."

He was especially critical of the Italian government for reportedly recommending that health care resources be rationed by age and limited to those who "could enjoy the largest number of life-years saved." Italy has had nearly 70,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and more than 6,800 deaths as of March 25.

Camosy also joined with Robert P. George, a law professor at Princeton University, and Harvard sociologist Jacqueline Cooke-Rivers in asking the Freedom of Conscience Defense Fund and the Thomas More Society to provide legal guidance on possible health care rationing during the pandemic.

"Decisions regarding the critical care of patients during the current crisis must not discriminate on the basis of disability or age," said the legal memorandum drawn up by the two organizations. "Decisions must be made solely on clinical factors as to which patients have the greatest need and the best prospect of a good medical outcome. Therefore, disability and age should not be used as categorical exclusions in making these critical decisions."

Peter Breen, Thomas More Society vice president and senior counsel, added: "The horrific idea of withholding care from someone because they are elderly or disabled is untenable and represents a giant step in the devaluation of each and every human life in America."

Brian M. Kane, senior director of ethics for the Catholic Health Association in St. Louis, said the key question in Catholic social thought is how to balance the principles of "the primacy of the dignity of the person" with the common good, while also maximizing the resources available.

"Across the country after the last pandemic (the H1N1 swine flu in 2009), an awful lot of work was done to articulate" the factors that should guide such decision-making, he said, praising the "Ventilator Allocation Guidelines" issued by the New York State Task Force on Life and the Law in 2015 and the "Patient Care Strategies for Scarce Resource Situations" issued by the Minnesota Department of Health in April 2019.

The New York guidelines use a mortality prediction scoring system called SOFA, or sequential organ failure assessment, to evaluate each patient. The evaluations and periodic reassessments are done by a triage officer or committee and not by the physicians treating that patient.

"The guiding principle for the triage decision is that the more severe a patient's health condition (i.e., higher the SOFA score) and worsening/no change in mortality risk (i.e., increase or little/no change in the SOFA score), the less likely the patient continues with ventilator therapy," the guidelines say.

"For some people, if we gave resources to them it would not be very effective in changing their outcome," Kane explained. "Others will get well even without the resources." But for patients in the middle, the SOFA score provides a "hierarchical system" for allocating resources, he added.

"It's Catholic social teaching principles applied in a specific way based on clear, concise medical criteria," he said.

The 21-member New York task force included two priests, a rabbi, an ordained Protestant chaplain and a physician who was identified as New York Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan's "delegate for health care."

Kane also warned that allocation of scarce resources must taken into account the Catholic social teaching of concern for the poor by making sure that "the distribution of resources does not reinforce disparities that we already have."

Both Camosy and Kane said they were uncomfortable with any health care decisions based on so-called "quality of life" considerations. Kane said quality of life should only be a factor for patients themselves to judge in deciding whether to accept certain kinds of treatment.

"Physicians almost always rate the quality of life of their patients significantly lower than patients do themselves -- and miss the fact that their patients often prefer length of life to quality of life (whatever that means)," Camosy wrote in the Post. "In short, they are terrible deciders about who should live and who should die."

Father Tadeusz Pacholczyk, director of education at the National Catholic Bioethics Center in Philadelphia, said there is no "one-size-fits-all answer" to resource allocation questions.

"In calamities, of course, hard questions arise," he said. "If a very sick man with COVID-19, who also has leukemia and congestive heart failure, is using the only available ventilator at a small rural hospital, would it be fair to unplug him and give the ventilator to a woman, slightly younger, who just arrived by ambulance and needs it, and who seems to have somewhat better prospects of survival? It really depends on the details.

"If continued ventilation were likely to result in his improvement and survival, and was beneficial with few burdens, it could be wrong to take it from him," Father Pacholczyk added.

But especially at Catholic hospitals in these difficult times, he said, "pastoral attention and caring for every person, especially every weakened and vulnerable person," must be paramount.

"We must avoid yielding to a kind of panic, and losing the calm of accompaniment that should be part of the experience of every visitor to our hospitals, including those facing their final days and hours," he said.

Fordham's Camosy told Catholic News Service he hopes the coronavirus crisis will help spark "a national conversation about these matters."

"Strangely," he added, that discussion "has not been on the radar screen of most media that I've seen covering" the pandemic.

- - -

Copyright © 2020 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. All rights reserved. Republishing or redistributing of CNS content, including by framing or similar means without prior permission, is prohibited. You may link to stories on our public site. This copy is for your personal, non-commercial use only. To request permission for republishing or redistributing of CNS content, please contact permissions at

Update: Latin American governments weigh pandemic shutdown vs. economic hardship

IMAGE: CNS photo/Roosevelt Cassio, Reuters

By Barbara Fraser

LIMA, Peru (CNS) -- On day nine of the state of emergency that Peru imposed to stop the spread of the coronavirus, Antonio Palomino Quispe got home just after the nightly curfew began.

He had been delivering food baskets that day, March 24, to 30 of the 100 low-income senior citizens who usually receive breakfast and lunch three days a week at St. Martin of Charity Parish in Villa El Salvador, a sprawling low-income neighborhood on the southern edge of Peru's capital city.

Since March 16, when the government ordered people to stay home except to buy food or medicine or to go to the doctor in an emergency, the "Martincitos," as the seniors call their group, after St. Martin of Porres, have been confined to their homes.

Many live alone, so they miss the meals, exercise and activities, and companionship that their meetings used to provide.

"Senior citizens are the most forgotten people" in Peru and the most vulnerable to the disease, said Palomino, 59, who founded the group three decades ago.

Although the seniors cannot meet, he continues to be their lifeline. The next morning, he delivered 70 more baskets cobbled together with food and other items donated to the parish.

The coronavirus pandemic swept much of the world before reaching Latin America, giving leaders time to learn from the high death rates in countries like Spain and Italy.

Officials say Peru's drastic measures are keeping the number of cases from rising beyond the health system's ability to respond.

Most other Latin American countries have taken similar measures, although some have not limited movement as severely as Peru.

Millions of Latin Americans earn only enough each day to cover their families' daily needs, so a complete shutdown creates hardship quickly. Government officials must balance the COVID-19 hazard against the risk of people going hungry and the danger of social unrest.

The problems are most acute in larger cities, such as Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro in Brazil, where millions of people are crowded together in favelas, low-income neighborhoods that often lack running water and sewer service.

Health experts warn that COVID-19 could sweep through favelas with lethal results, but the government has not imposed nationwide measures, leaving states and cities to take their own steps.

In Rio de Janeiro, an imposed quarantine has put street vendors, manicurists, hairstylists, janitors, security guards and other people out of work, said Vania Ribeiro, vice president of the Association of Residents of the Tabajara and Cabritos, two favelas that are home to 21,000 residents.

"If you don't go to work, you have nothing to eat at home," Ribeiro told Catholic News Service. "There is no money, there is no water, there is no food. It is a very difficult situation."

Her local public health clinic is shared with Copacabana, a neighborhood with a large number of elderly people, who are at greatest risk of dying if they catch the virus. But the clinic has no COVID-19 test kits, so people with symptoms are sent home to wait out the quarantine period, Ribeiro said.

In favelas, however, three generations often share a single room that serves as living area and bedroom, perhaps with a tiny separate kitchen.

"How does a resident of a favela stay in quarantine with no contact with other people?" Ribeiro asked "How can we isolate the elderly?"

Rio de Janeiro's mayor proposed moving elderly residents who test positive to hotels, but Ribeiro said that will not help neighborhoods like hers, where the clinic has no tests.

Like Brazil, Mexico has also refused to impose quarantines and was only beginning to limit large gatherings. President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador has held rallies in the hinterlands, hugging supporters and kissing babies. In a video posted on social media March 22, he encouraged people to continue dining out to boost the economy.

Observers say Lopez Obrador wants to spare the working classes, who lack the financial means to endure social isolation and be away from work for several weeks or months.

"They don't have any savings at all. They live paycheck to paycheck," Father Robert Coogan, an American priest in the northern Mexican Diocese of Saltillo, told CNS.

Father Coogan ministers to prisoners, who are especially vulnerable to the virus, as they live in close quarters.

"It will go through the (prison) population if it gets in," Father Coogan said. "Nobody on my team goes in, and I only go in to say Mass -- no other contact with them."

Inmates are worried, especially as they have little access to credible information and are concerned about what could happen to their families, he said.

Concern is also rising in the Amazon region, where cases are fewer but remote communities, especially indigenous villages, lack health services and are especially vulnerable.

In Boa Vista, in northwestern Brazil, the risk is greatest for Venezuelans who have fled their country's political and economic breakdown.

About 6,000 people live in official tent shelters, while some 20,000 more live in makeshift camps or abandoned buildings or sleep on the street, said Esther Tello, co-director of Caritas, the Catholic Church's social and humanitarian assistance office in Boa Vista.

Many settlements lack running water, making good hygiene -- crucial for preventing contagion -- virtually impossible. Concern arose March 24 as the number of confirmed cases in the city rose from two to five.

Because of the prohibition on public gatherings, city officials threatened to fine several Consolata sisters who provided bread and coffee to homeless Venezuelans outside their house every morning. The sisters -- who are senior citizens themselves, and at higher risk if they catch the virus -- have had to stop serving the breakfasts, Tello said.

In Iquitos, Peru's largest Amazonian city, Bishop Jose Javier Travieso Martin of the Vicariate of San Jose de Amazonas was hospitalized with COVID-19. Health officials were tracking down more than 60 people with whom he had contact before he was diagnosed.

Many of those people are missionaries or catechists who returned to remote rural and indigenous communities after meeting with the bishop just before the state of emergency was declared.

In low-income neighborhoods in Iquitos, where wooden houses are built on stilts because of seasonal flooding, fish, a staple of the Amazonian diet, have disappeared from markets, and prices of other products have risen, Estela Maria Perez Vilchez, 42, told CNS.

Perez, who works as a cleaner at a dialysis clinic, considers herself lucky to have a job during the shutdown. Despite the government order to stay at home, some of her neighbors still venture out for a few hours a day to sell items or drive motorized rickshaws in an effort to earn a few dollars.

"There's no work, and people don't know if they're going to be able to eat," said Perez, a lay catechist in the sprawling Immaculate Conception Parish.

Good hygiene is also difficult for many people, who lack running water in their homes and must pay others a few cents for a bucket of water for washing.

Perez misses the weekly gatherings in the neighborhood chapel, where she would normally lead the Liturgy of the Word and be starting religious education classes for children this month.

"We pray that nothing will happen" and that the state of emergency can be lifted soon, Perez said. To avoid catching the virus, she added, "I take precautions, but the one who protects me most is God."

- - -

Contributing to this story were Lise Alves in Sao Paulo and David Agren in Mexico City.


- - -

Copyright © 2020 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. All rights reserved. Republishing or redistributing of CNS content, including by framing or similar means without prior permission, is prohibited. You may link to stories on our public site. This copy is for your personal, non-commercial use only. To request permission for republishing or redistributing of CNS content, please contact permissions at

Vatican asks bishops to help faithful celebrate Holy Week, Easter at home

IMAGE: CNS photo/Todd Korol, Reuters

By Cindy Wooden

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- The Vatican has asked Catholic bishops around the world, both in the Latin rite and the Eastern Catholic Churches, to provide their faithful with resources to support personal and family prayer during Holy Week and at Easter, especially where COVID-19 restrictions prevent them from going to church.

The Congregation for Eastern Churches, publishing "indications" March 25 for the Paschal celebrations in the churches it supports, urged the heads of the churches to issue concrete, specific norms for the celebrations "in accordance with the measures established by the civil authorities for the containment of the contagion."

The statement was signed by Cardinal Leonardo Sandri, congregation prefect, and asked the Eastern churches to "arrange, and distribute through the means of social communication, aids that allow an adult of the family to explain to the little ones the 'mystagogy' (religious meaning) of the rites that under normal conditions would be celebrated in the church with the assembly present."

The Congregation for Divine Worship and the Sacraments, updating a note originally published March 20, also asked that bishops' conferences and dioceses "see to it that resources are provided to support family and personal prayer" during Holy Week and Easter where they cannot go to Mass.

The Congregation for Eastern Churches' suggestions for celebrating the liturgies in the midst of the pandemic were not as specific as those issued for Latin-rite Catholics because the Eastern Catholic churches have a variety of liturgical traditions and may follow the Julian calendar, with Palm Sunday and Easter a week later this year than on the Gregorian calendar used by most Catholics.

Still, the congregation said, in the Eastern Catholic churches "the feasts are strictly to be kept on the days foreseen by the liturgical calendar, broadcasting or streaming those celebrations that are possible, so that they can be followed by the faithful in their homes."

The one exception is the liturgy at which the "holy myron," or sacramental oils, are blessed. While it has become the custom to bless the oil the morning of Holy Thursday, "this celebration, not being linked in the East to this day, can be moved to another date," the statement said.

Cardinal Sandri asked the heads of the Eastern Catholic churches to consider ways to adapt their liturgies particularly because "the participation of the choir and ministers expected by some ritual traditions is not possible at the present time when prudence advises avoiding gathering in significant numbers."

The congregation asked the churches to omit rites usually held outside the church building and to postpone any baptisms scheduled for Easter.

Eastern Christianity has a wealth of ancient prayers, hymns and sermons that the faithful should be encouraged to read around the cross on Good Friday, the statement said.

Where going to the nighttime celebration of Easter liturgy is not possible, Cardinal Sandri suggested "families may be invited, where possible through the festive sound of the bells, to gather to read the Gospel of the Resurrection, lighting a lamp and singing some troparion or songs typical of their tradition that the faithful often know by memory."

And, he said, many Eastern Catholics will be disappointed that they cannot go to confession before Easter. In line with a decree issued March 19 by the Apostolic Penitentiary, "let pastors indicate to the faithful the recitation of some of the rich penitential prayers from the Oriental tradition to be recited with a spirit of contrition."

The decree from the Apostolic Penitentiary, a church tribunal dealing with matters of conscience, asked priests to remind Catholics facing "the painful impossibility of receiving sacramental absolution," that they can make an act of contrition directly to God in prayer.

If they are sincere and promise to go to confession as soon as possible, they "obtain the forgiveness of sins, even mortal sins," the decree said.

Bishop Kenneth Nowakowski, the new head of the Ukrainian Catholic Eparchy of the Holy Family of London, told Catholic News Service March 25 that a group of Ukrainian bishops already is working on guidelines for their church.

One popular Easter tradition, followed especially among Ukrainians living abroad without their families, he said, is to have the bishop or priest bless a basket of their Easter foods, including decorated eggs, bread, butter, meat and cheese.

"We want to find ways to livestream the liturgies and help our faithful understand that it is Christ who blesses," not the priest, Bishop Nowakowski said.

In addition, he said, "Our Lord is not restricted by the sacraments; he can come into our lives in these very trying circumstances in many ways."


- - -

Copyright © 2020 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. All rights reserved. Republishing or redistributing of CNS content, including by framing or similar means without prior permission, is prohibited. You may link to stories on our public site. This copy is for your personal, non-commercial use only. To request permission for republishing or redistributing of CNS content, please contact permissions at

Italian doctors: Staff overwhelmed during pandemic; model must change

IMAGE: CNS photo/Guglielmo Mangiapane, Reuters

By Carol Glatz

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Doctors working in the epicenter of the COVID-19 pandemic in Italy have launched an appeal in a major medical journal warning the outbreak in their province is out of control.

The medical and humanitarian emergency unfolding before their eyes has made it clear that the Western health care system of centralized hospital care cannot handle this and future epidemics and needs to shift toward more community-focused care.

The present emergency, in fact, is laying bare a number of problems or weaknesses that need attention, Msgr. Renzo Pegoraro, chancellor of the Pontifical Academy for Life and expert in bioethics, told Catholic News Service March 25 in a request for a response to the medical article.

The doctors' plea was published in the New England Journal of Medicine's March-April 2020 edition of its online journal, "Catalyst: Innovations in Care Delivery." The article was jointly written and signed by a dozen doctors working at the Pope John XXIII hospital in Bergamo, a small northern city near where the pope saint was born.

The hospital, located in one of Italy's wealthiest regions, is one of the most advanced in Europe. But despite its modern structure and equipment, according to the doctors, they are operating "well below our normal standard of care."

The Italian province of Bergamo has the highest number of known cases and deaths related to the coronavirus in Italy.

Doctors at the Pope John XXIII hospital wrote that those who do get hospitalized wait hours for a bed in intensive care. As of March 18, the city had 4,305 known cases -- more than any other city in the country, according to the Italian Ministry of Health.
"Older patients are not being resuscitated and die alone without appropriate palliative care, while the family is notified over the phone, often by a well-intentioned, exhausted, and emotionally depleted physician with no prior contact," the doctors wrote.

With the area's best hospital overwhelmed, surrounding facilities are facing even worse, they wrote.

"Most hospitals are overcrowded, nearing collapse while medications, mechanical ventilators, oxygen and personal protective equipment are not available. Patients lay on floor mattresses," they said.

Cemeteries struggle to handle the number of dead, which will in turn create another public health hazard, and regular services are struggling, such as vaccination programs and pregnancy and childbirth care.

"Unfortunately, the outside world seems unaware that in Bergamo, this outbreak is out of control," they wrote, and just as bad, "this catastrophe unfolding in wealthy Lombardy could happen anywhere."

Calling it "the Ebola of the rich," the coronavirus requires a coordinated transnational effort because it is so contagious.

In the doctors' opinion, "the more medicalized and centralized the society, the more widespread the virus."

"Western health care systems have been built around the concept of patient-centered care," but in a pandemic, this focus on a patient vying with others for services at a centralized hospital is inadequate "and must be replaced by community-centered care."

"Solutions for COVID-19 are required for the entire population, not only for hospitals," which, in their case, has become "highly contaminated" and its capacity is at the breaking point.

In the article, the hospital clinicians called for "a long-term plan for the next pandemic," one built on a more decentralized system of monitored home health care and mobile clinics.

"This disaster could be averted only by massive deployment of outreach services" spread out across the local level so all unnecessary movement of people is avoided and hospitals serve only the critically ill.

Noninvasive and nonintensive care can be delivered directly to the homes of those who are mildly ill or convalescing, and "telemedicine" monitoring systems can help those who should be isolated.

"This approach would limit hospitalization to a focused target of disease severity, thereby decreasing contagion, protecting patients and health care workers, and minimizing consumption of protective equipment. In hospitals, protection of medical personnel should be prioritized. No compromise should be made on protocols; equipment must be available," they added.

There should be specific vehicles, facilities and personnel that are dedicated only to the pandemic and separated from virus-free areas, they wrote.

"This outbreak is more than an intensive care phenomenon, rather it is a public health and humanitarian crisis," the doctors said.

"It requires social scientists, epidemiologists, experts in logistics, psychologists, and social workers" as well as humanitarian agencies "who recognize the importance of local engagement," they added.

Responding to the journal's article, Msgr. Pegoraro said any kind of pandemic needs a joint response by public health officials, hospitals, governments, the media and the people.

The Italian public health system is inspired by Catholic moral tradition that seeks to have medicine and the health care system serve both patients and the community together, he said in a written statement sent to CNS March 25.

It is not a "socialist" system where the state chooses the community over the individual nor does it use a "utilitarian" calculus to identify what benefits the majority, he wrote.
"There is now an emergency that highlights the problems, things that have been neglected and the weak points of a system that is good in its foundational values but deficient in certain political and organizational choices," he wrote.

This and future pandemics show how important it is to have an approach that puts medicine at the service of both the person and the community together, he wrote.

The Italian doctors ended their article with an appeal for countries to take the crisis seriously.

"Bold measures are needed to slow down the infection" and "lockdown is paramount" for substantially reducing transmission.

- - -

Copyright © 2020 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. All rights reserved. Republishing or redistributing of CNS content, including by framing or similar means without prior permission, is prohibited. You may link to stories on our public site. This copy is for your personal, non-commercial use only. To request permission for republishing or redistributing of CNS content, please contact permissions at