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 Andrew Medichini

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VATICAN CITY, April 28, 2020 (LifeSiteNews) ― Pope Francis has called upon Catholics to pray for the “grace of…obedience” regarding Phase 2 of state lockdown regulations. 

The pontiff made this remark this morning at the beginning of Mass at his hotel home, the Casa Santa Marta, a day after news that the Italian bishops were unhappy with continuing the ban on public worship featured in the press.     

“At this time when measures for leaving the quarantine are beginning, let us pray to the Lord that He will give his people, to all of us, the grace of prudence and obedience, so that the pandemic does not return,” the pope said.  

The request was subsequently added to Pope Francis’ Twitter account. 

The Italian media is widely reporting this as a rebuke to the Italian Ecclesiastical Conference (CEI), who criticized the Italian government on Sunday night for extending the ban on public worship into “Phase 2” of its strategy against the COVID-19 coronavirus.  

Quotidiano wrote, “‘Prudence’ and ‘obedience’, then, are the key words that sound like a command, used by the pontiff right when part of the Church has criticized the actions of the Conte executive.” 

Il Fatto Quotidiano was even more pointed, saying that “in the debate about the participation of the faithful at mass in Phase 2 … Pope Francis repudiates the Italian Episcopal Conference and sides with Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte.”

“A few words at the beginning of his usual morning Mass at his residence… were enough to disassociate [Pope Francis] totally from the clash between CEI and the government.” 

Catholic journalist Sandro Magister agreed with the interpretation of the Italian media, saying today that the remark was a humiliation for the CEI. 

“The Italian bishops are [now] doubly humiliated, first by the head of the government, and then by the pope,” he wrote.

Today Quotidiano published an interview with  Bishop Massimo Camisasca of Reggio Emilia, 73,  in which he repeated the CEI’s assertion that freedom of religion was being compromised. 

“The decision of the [government] expresses an arbitrary violation of religious freedom, sanctioned by the Constitution,” he said and added that a legal expert had determined that it was also in violation of the Concordat between the Italian state and the Holy See, something that would be addressed after the pandemic. 

“At this time, the Church insists on the ability to return to her pastoral activities with the autonomy she deserves under the law.” 

Funerals are the one religious ceremony allowed by “Phase 2” and then only if 15 people are present. Camisasca stated that he didn’t understand why small funerals were permitted and small Mass were not. 

“It must be clear to everyone that the commitment to serve the needy, lavished by the Church in these months through widespread assistance to the sick and the aged, stems from a faith that must nourish itself, in particular through the sacraments,” he said.  

The bishop underscored another point made by the CEI: that they had come up with a plan to begin public worship safely, with protocols in place so that the faithful do not get sick. 

“Phase 2” is the Italian government’s latest response to the coronavirus, one which Prime Minister Conte called on Sunday evening “the phase of living with the virus.” Hitherto hard-hit Italy has been under a strict lockdown, Italians not deemed essential workers confined to their own properties except to buy essential food items or medicine. 

The new guidelines will allow some mixing between households. Beginning May 4, Italians will be allowed to visit nearby family members but not travel outside their own regions. They will be permitted to exercise outdoors as long as they maintain a one meter (3 feet) distance from each other. They will be permitted to buy takeout from restaurants. Funerals including up to 15 close relations will be allowed, as long as everyone present wears masks and maintains so-called social distancing. Any other kind of religious gathering or ceremony is still banned.  

Face masks, whose price has been capped at 50 Euro cents, or makeshift masks, like scarves, will have to be worn on public transit and, now by law, anyone with a fever will have to stay at home. 

Factories, construction companies, and wholesalers have been invited to start planning now for an early May restart. If this loosening of restrictions is successful, shops, museums, and cultural sites will be opened from May 18. Restaurants and beauty parlors will not reopen until June 1, however. Schools will remain shut until September.