By Robin Gomes
Pope Francis has Bergamo in his heart and prays for its people every day, said Bishop Francesco Beschi of the northern Italian city. In a post on the diocesan website, the bishop said that the Holy Father called him on the phone on Wednesday to express his support and sympathy for one of Italy's communities hardest hit by the coronavirus.
The Holy Father, he said, was “very affectionate in showing his paternal closeness to me, to the priests, to the sick, to those who care for them and to all our community," the bishop told Vatican Radio.
Although he was "very well informed", the bishop continued, the Pope asked for details about the situation the people are living through. He said the Pope was greatly struck by the number of dead and the social distancing that families and their members are forced to go through in such a painful way.
“He begged me to bring to each and every one his blessing that comforts and bears grace, light and strength.”
Close to the sick
Pope Francis expressed his closeness to the sick and "to all those who in different ways are working heroically for the good of others: doctors, nurses, civil and health authorities and law enforcement agencies".
The Pope also had a special “thank you” for priests. He was struck not only by the sheer number of dead and the hospitalized but was also greatly “impressed in a positive way by the pastoral imagination with which every possible form of closeness to families, the elderly and children has been invented as a sign of God's own closeness", Bishop Beschi said.
Through its Guardian Angel Foundation, Bergamo Diocese is offering a telephone helpline to provide psychological or spiritual support to those in need. Priests, consecrated persons, lay people and psychologists or psychotherapists serving as diocesan family consultors are running the service.
“Pope Francis has promised that he will carry us in his heart and in his daily prayers.”
"This delicate gesture of his thoughtfulness and his blessing as a father,” the bishop noted, “was an echo, a continuation, a concrete realization for me, and I am convinced, for the entire diocese and for each one of us, of that caress of our Saint Pope John XXIII whom we invoked yesterday in prayer and which nature is giving back to us with the first shoots of spring.”
Italy – Lombardy – Bergamo
Italy is the worst-affected country in the world and in Europe outside of China, where the infection rate appears to have slowed down. Most of the cases in Italy are concentrated in the northern Lombardy region, Bergamo having the worst caseload.
The country on Wednesday registered 475 deaths, the highest in a single day. Averaging more than 350 deaths a day since March 15, Italy is nearing China’s 3,249 dead.
Out of the country’s 28,710 positive cases, Lombardy has 12,266, with Bergamo province alone totalling 4,305.
At least 10 priests have died in Italy because of the virus last week, more than half of them from the Diocese of Bergamo. In a radio interview on Monday, Bishop Beschi said that 20 of his priests were hospitalized and 6 had died. “The number of priests who have died this week and that of those who are still in a particularly serious situation is very high,” he added.