Coronavirus and the suspension of Services and Masses: the risk of underestimating loneliness

Article by Andrea Riccardi, published on Corriere della Sera

Some dioceses in the North had already suspended mass. Last night, the Prime Minister decree (with decisive directives to reduce contagion) came into force, with the provisions on «religious ceremonies». Following an intense negotiation between the Italian Episcopal Conference (CEI) and Palazzo Chigi - which did not seem available for other reasons than those of its technicians - the CEI gave up: both funerals and masses are suspended in Italy.

Those familiar with the CEI polite tone can immediately seize the major disappointment in the statement. The Italian Episcopal Conference has always been always ready to collaborate, yet the decree was accepted only to «contribute to the protection of public health» and that it is «a highly restrictive passage». The Church does not start a crisis in a time of emergency. Nevertheless, there is a misunderstanding of its reality. The government decrees «civil and religious ceremonies, including funeral ceremonies are suspended».

Is the Liturgy of the Church one of the «ceremonies»? In the decree, opening of worship places is wisely conditioned to the width and distance among those present. It right to avoid crowded funerals. But it is hard to understand why worship and prayer are forbidden, when celebrated safely. Perhaps not all decision-makers penetrate the peculiar sense of Mass for believers, of which the ancient martyrs said: «sine dominicum non possumus».

Churches in Italy are not the South Korean sect, where one prays breathing and holding hands and where the contagion took place - and kept secret. A serious aspect concerns relations between State and Church: «Each in his own order, independent and sovereign». Can the State decide on «ceremonies» in churches? One touches on jurisdictionalism, certainly inspired by prudence but which does not consider the holistic vision of a person. It is a vulnus in a system of relationships to come back to.

The coronavirus highlights an existing crisis among people, in need of connections and meanings. Dioceses have stepped up videos inviting to family prayer… Which family? In Milan 45,56% of people live alone; in Rome 44%. Lonely elderly in Rome are 250,000. Our cities are made of lonely people, which do not feel protected in the face of an uncertain future, among fake news, conspiracy theories, magical explanations or divine condemnations.

Fear grows in solitude. Comfort comes not only from scientific explanations. In the history of the Peninsula, masses have never been suspended. A very serious sign. In times of crises, the Church has always been a point of reference. Like in 1943-45, facing the German violence. Today there is confusion and uncertainty. In a weave of fragile relationships, to built up on faith and motivation is pivotal also to resist and develop solidarity and self-discipline, both decisive now. It is precisely because we all agree the moment is serious and all human resources are needed.

Translation by the Editorial Staff