This past weekend, northern Italy saw a dramatic increase in the number of coronavirus cases. As of February 24th, Italy had 229 confirmed cases and 7 deaths – the most of any European country.
In response to the deadly outbreak, many cities have suspended all private and public events and gatherings to contain it. In the Lombardy and Veneto regions where most of the cases have occurred, Italian health officials have imposed quarantines on whole cities.
Catholic Dioceses responded by cancelling Masses and asking parishioners to receive the Host via the hand and not the tongue. The Archdiocese of Milan suspended all Mass beginning the 23rd, and the famed Milan Cathedral is shuttered to pilgrims. Patriarch of Venice Archbishop Francesco Moraglia suspended all Mass, baptisms, Stations of the Cross, and other liturgical celebrations until March 1st, inviting the Faithful to “dedicate a convenient time to prayer and meditation” in the stead of Ash Wednesday Mass.
Bishops in the regions of Emilia-Romagna and Liguria also cancelled all Mass and parish activities until March 1st; however, the Diocese of Turin cancelled all parish activities while still holding Mass but telling parishioners to abstain from exchanging the sign of peace and receiving Communion in the hand.
In response to the outbreak, the Episcopal Conference of Italy released a statement saying:
“We feel the duty of full collaboration with the competent State and Regional Authorities to contain the epidemic risk. We are committed to doing our part to reduce bewilderment and fear. This is the time to find reasons for realism, trust and hope, which allow us to face this difficult situation together.”