Italian dioceses surrounding Milan have reported the deaths of 30 priests during the coronavirus outbreak.
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, Fr. Andrea Avanzini of the Diocese of Parma, was 54 years old. Five more fatalities were registered in the city of Parma. Still more virus-related deaths emerged among priests in Brescia, Cremona and the northern industrial hub of Milan itself.
Eleven of the deceased priests come from the Diocese of Bergamo, where at least 15 other priests have been hospitalized, according to the local bishop
“Pope Francis has promised that he will carry us in his heart and in his daily prayers,” Bishop Francesco Beschi of Bergamo told his diocese in a video message following the phone call.
Del Monte has a parish in Bergamo, a walled, hillside city of 120,000 people which is now at the centre of the world’s worst outbreak.
With 4,634 infections as of Friday, the province had piled up 11 per cent of all of Italy’s cases.
Its population accounts for just 0.2 per cent of Italy’s total.
Bergamo has so many dead that army trucks had to deliver supplies of freshly-made wooden coffins yesterday.
Mortuaries can no longer hold all the bodies and there are fears that the true death toll may be even higher because some victims are never tested
Bergamo is the home diocese of Pope St. John XXIII, and the bishop is encouraging local Catholics to pray to St. John XXIII for the sick and for their caretakers.
Fr. Remo Rota, an Italian priest who served as a missionary in the Democratic Republic of Congo for 38 years, died on March 17 in Bergamo after testing positive for coronavirus. He was 77.
Six priests have died of the coronavirus in the Diocese of Parma. Among them was Fr. Franco Minardi, who served the same parish for 70 years, and Fr. Nicola Masi, a Saveriani Missionary of Parma, who once served as a missionary in the Amazon.
Other Italian dioceses with reported coronavirus deaths are Cremona, Milan, Lodi, Brescia, Casale Monferrato and Tortona.
Nearly 3,000 people have died from COVID-19 in Italy in less than a month after 35,700 people tested positive for the coronavirus as of March 18.
Italy has taken over the grim title of being the global epicentre of the pandemic from China, where COVID-19 was first reported in late December.
The 10 deaths in Bergamo, five in Parma and three other reported cases mean the clerical death toll is at least 18.