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CASTELLO D’AGOGNA, Italy, March 11, 2020 (LifeSiteNews) ― An elderly Italian priest is in trouble with civil authorities for celebrating a public Sunday Mass. 

Father Antonio Lunghi, an 88-year-old priest of Castello d’Agogna, a small village in Pavia, was reported to the local public prosecutor after offering Mass in the parish church. Eight people were present, apparently violating an ordinance by both civil and ecclesial authorities against saying Mass in public. 

Various provinces and dioceses in northern Italy have suspended public religious services, despite allowing shops, bars, restaurants, gymnasiums, and other businesses to remain open. 

According to Italy’s Il Giorno newspaper, Fr. Lunghi was reported to the public prosecutor by the town’s mayor William Grivel. 

“There was no complaint,” Grivel told the media. “Simply some residents told me what happened and I referred the matter to the competent authorities.” 

Apparently, the people who reported the priest were alerted to Lunghi’s Sunday Mass by the ringing of the church bells.

Italy’s La Repubblica reported that the priest did not know about the ordinance against public religious services because he does not use the Internet and thus did not open an email of instructions from the diocese.    

The reaction of the Catholic Church in northern Italy to the outbreak of the coronavirus is in great contrast to that of St. Charles Borromeo, who was the Cardinal Archbishop of Milan when a plague broke out in that city on August 11, 1576. 

According to a recent essay by Italian Catholic journalist and historian Robert de Mattei, Cardinal Borromeo not only assisted those who fell sick, but also ordered public and private prayers. (Notably, he did not, like many in authority, flee the city.) He visited hospitals and led penitential processions, believing that the plague was a “scourge sent by Heaven” as a punishment for sins. When the magistrates who governed Milan objected to the public ceremonies, arguing that they would spread contagion, Borromeo convinced them that spiritual remedies, like those prescribed by St. Gregory the Great in 590, had stopped plagues in the past. 

Borromeo led three general processions that October “to placate the wrath of God” and afterwards preached about how sins provoke God’s punishment. When survivors became too afraid to leave their homes, their archbishop had Masses and public prayers said at outdoor altars all over the city so that people could participate from the windows of their homes. 

Matthei believes, as Borromeo believed, that the Milan plague of 1576 was “a chastisement, but also an opportunity for purification and conversion.”

“Charles Borromeo gathered his meditations in a Memorial, wherein, he writes among other things: ‘City of Milan, your greatness reached the heavens; your wealth extended to the confines of the universe world (…) Then, all of sudden, from Heaven comes the pestilence which is the Hand of God, and, all of a sudden, your pride was crushed’,” Matthei wrote.

“The Saint was convinced that everything was due to the great mercy of God,” he continued and quoted Borromeo, who wrote “[God] wounded and healed; He scourged and cured; He placed his hand on the rod of chastisement and offered the staff of support.” 

Six thousand people died in the first two months of what has been called “St. Charles’ Plague”in 1576; the death toll in Italy from the 2020 coronavirus is currently less than 200. 

Almost 4,000 cases of coronavirus have been reported in the country, but the Mayor of Castello d’Agogna is particularly worried about the hardest hit of coronavirus victims – the elderly. 

“The true ‘martyrs on earth’, even in the time of Coronavirus, are always and only the grandparents,” Grivel wrote on Facebook.


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