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 Katarina Carranco

ROME, Italy, March 12, 2020 (LifeSiteNews) ― All the Catholic churches in Rome have been closed to the faithful because of the coronavirus outbreak.  

In a move that is without historical precedent, Cardinal Angelo de Donatis, the Pope’s vicar for the diocese of Rome, announced today that all the Catholic churches in Rome will be closed until April 3, 2020. Earlier this week, the Italian Bishops’ Conference suspended all public celebrations of Mass, but they allowed the churches to be open at certain times for personal prayer and Eucharistic adoration. However, that comfort has been lost to the faithful in Rome. 

According to ACI Stampa, the decision came from Cardinal Angelo de Donatis, who updated the March 8 decree that originally suspended Masses to include the closing the churches. 

The decree now states that “until April 3, 2020, access to parish churches and other churches in the diocese of Rome open to the public, and more generally any religious building of any kind open to the public, is off-limits to all the faithful.”

Use of the churches will be permitted only to religious orders attached to them, i.e. monks and nuns living in community. 

Various provinces and dioceses in northern Italy have suspended public religious services, although some shops, bars, restaurants, gymnasiums, and other businesses remain open. Earlier this week an elderly priest was reported to civil authorities for offering Sunday Mass. The octogenarian apparently does not use the Internet and thus had not received a notice from the diocese about the suspension of public Masses.

The reaction of the Catholic Church in 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. 

Mattei 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’,” Mattei 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 just over 1000.