Up to 30 priests have died in Italy as a result of the coronavirus pandemic gripping the country, according to the official newspaper of the Church there.
Avvenire – the publication of the Italian bishops’ conference – reported that 28 priests were confirmed to have died from Covid-19, while two others died before they had been tested.
All but three of the priests were over the age of 70, and more than half were over 80 years old. The youngest priest to die from coronavirus was 54 years old.
Eleven of the deceased priests come from the Diocese of Bergamo, where at least 15 other priests have been hospitalised, according to the local bishop. Bergamo was the diocese of which Fr Angelo Roncalli – later Pope St John XXIII – was a priest.
In a video message to his diocese, Bishop Francesco Beschi tole parishioners that Pope Francis has been in touch with him to express solidarity.
“The Holy Father was very affectionate, showing his paternal closeness to me, to the priests, to the sick, to those who care for them and to our whole community. He wanted to ask for details on the situation that Bergamo is experiencing, on which he was very informed,” the bishop said.
“In particular, he asked me to bring his closeness to the sick and to all those who in different ways are doing heroically for the good of others: doctors, nurses, civil and health authorities, law enforcement,” he added.
Almost 5,000 people have died from coronavirus in Italy and latest figures show that there have been 53,578 cases as of March 21.