As of yesterday morning (March 15th), seven priests have reportedly died from COVID-19 in Italy, the first to die from the global pandemic. Furthermore, twenty priests in the country were hospitalized because of the coronavirus.
Among those seven was Monsignor Vincenzo Rini (pictured above), a priest from the Diocese of Cremona near Milan which is close to the epicenter of the pandemic in Italy. Rini was buried in the diocesan cemetery, with his colleagues remembering him as representing “an open window to hope, the virtue that had always characterized his life.”
Rini, 75, devoted his 30 years of priestly ministry to journalism, calling it “a job done not as a journalist but as a priest, to proclaim the gospel through the newspapers.”
“To serve information is to serve the Church. We, as priests, have a huge responsibility, because our example helps people to look favorably or negatively to the Church. Being a priest is a beautiful thing. It’s challenging, but it’s a wonderful thing and I never regretted it for a minute. I am really happy that I became a priest, even when I’m a little down in the mood.”
The Diocese of Cremona put a statement in remembrance of Rini which you can read here (via Google Translate) in which they paid tribute to the words he loved to repeat:
“It is the gaze of the heavenly Father, which no betrayal, no human malice can erase or deviate, the full expression of his mercy, the true indication of mercy that must permeate the whole life of the Christian community; the image that must impress itself in the heart of every priest so that he can learn from God’s merciful gaze to be his witness and proclaimer.”
The other six perished priests were from the Diocese of Bergamo, also near Milan and one of the cities hardest hit by the pandemic. The Bishop of Bergamo Francesco Bechi said that “no one is exempt from this extremely painful trial” when reporting the deaths and hospitalizations of his priests.
“Our priests are many and numerous are those who have exposed themselves to be close to their community. So their illness is an evident sign of closeness, a painful sign of closeness and sharing of pain.”
Italy has 24,747 confirmed cases of coronavirus and 1,809 deaths as of March 15th.