Priests remain close to their infected flock. Some conduct eucharistic blessings in streets. Others gave up ventilators in favour of younger patients. Although Chinese authorities have lifted quarantine restrictions in most of the country, churches remain closed and gatherings are still banned.
Beijing (AsiaNews) – The number of deaths among Italian priests from the coronavirus has left a mark among many Chinese priests. As of 25 March, 68 priests had died. Many of them risked their life to be close to their dying parishioners; others refused to use ventilators in favour of younger patients.
Shan Ren Shen Fu, a well-known blogger priest in China, looks at some reactions and comments, divided between the necessity of safety, which risks leaving the faithful alone, and the pastoral need to be close to them. What follow are some excerpts from one of his posts, which received wide circulation in Chinese social media.
It should be noted that in China, although the authorities have declared an end to the quarantine in most of the country, churches remain closed and gatherings are still banned. During the epidemic, the dead were wrapped in plastic bags and taken to crematoria without funeral services.
I recently wrote an article about Italian priests who died from the coronavirus. My article aroused misunderstandings and opposition. If priests do not wear a mask or a protective suit, they should not make pastoral visits, much less go to visit the sick in hospital. Being a priest is no protection from infection and without protection, one risks infecting the faithful who come in contact with you.
This is undeniable and undisputable. The number of cases of contagion in Italy is rising at an incredible pace and the death rate is close to 10 per cent. When the epidemic broke out in China, the Chinese bought the masks available around the world to help their compatriots! Now we learn that it is not that Italians do not wear masks, but that they leave the few available to hospitals and doctors. This is why people, including priests and nuns, cannot find extra masks.
I asked a Catholic immigrant in Italy why don't Italians wear a mask. He said that only the sick wear masks. However, the main reason is that in addition to gifts made during Chinese New Year, the rest was purchased by the Chinese and shipped to China. So, now the government calls on citizens to reserve masks for healthcare workers.
This morning I read an article titled “Behind the number of cases in Italy”. It is very moving. It states: "Since there are too many patients and there is no health equipment, all patients over 65 years of age give up on their own treatment . . . I too am 65 years old. If I had a 20-year-old patient next to me and if there was only enough to save one person, I would stop my treatment so that the young person could hope to survive.”
A few days ago, I saw a video that was made after Italy imposed a quarantine. In it we see priests carrying the Eucharist in procession and blessing the people. This video impressed me a lot and I felt very encouraged. Those priests were moved by faith and love. Jesus’s words come to mind: “I will not leave you orphans” (John 14:18). The heart oppressed by the greyness is full of hope in an instant!
An American priest came up with something else: confessing in the church parking lot so that people did not have to get out of their car and kept a safe distance. For me, this is quite lovely. ...
A priest studying in Rome commented on my post. “I greatly admire the older priests who died in Italy! They did not get infected staying at home; most of them went to visit the faithful, giving the last rites (because Italy has many faithful and the sick need to receive the sacraments). They were infected precisely doing that. At a time of great difficulty, we must learn and think about their courage and pastoral heart.
I have decided to return to my parish (during the quarantine in China, he moved in with his parents). My father and mother told me: “The other priests have not left yet, why are you hurrying?” I didn't know what to answer.