Coronavirus quarantine: How Catholics in Italy are helping the poor 

Rome, Italy, Mar 13, 2020 / 09:54 am (CNA).- While Italy is under nationwide quarantine to combat the coronavirus pandemic, Catholic charities throughout the country are doing what they can to help the poor and most vulnerable.

In Milan, the center of the Italian epidemic, the Caritas Ambrosiana Catholic charity network has kept open the doors of its shelters, soup kitchens, and food pantries, albeit with some modifications to help keep people safe.

“In the midst of the emergency we have tried to balance two principles: public health and the support of people in difficulty,” the director, Francesco Chiavarini, told CNA by phone.

At soup kitchens and food pantries, people are first checked for fevers and then enter in limited numbers. Night shelters and dormitories are now kept open during the day for the homeless.

“In this moment, life is very complicated for the homeless,” Chiavarini said, explaining that places where people without homes go to escape the region’s still cold weather, public libraries for example, are now all closed.

The Italian government has ordered people to remain at home during the quarantine, but people living on the street have no way to comply with that mandate.

“In some way, with this little initiative, we are trying to resolve this paradox,” the Caritas director said. “It’s a drop in the ocean really, but it’s what we can do.”

Milan’s Caritas hopes that during this difficult time, the shelters can become a “home” for those who do not have one.

People in northern Italy are “really, really worried,” Chiavarini said. As the number of cases grows, so does the risk of the collapse of the health service.

He encouraged Catholics to think of ways they can show closeness and solidarity to others, even while they cannot be physically near them.

Caritas Internationalis’ is helping refugees in Italy know what is going on with the coronavirus and what they should do.

In Rome, the Catholic lay community of Sant’Egidio has volunteers continuing to bring food to people living on the streets. Volunteers are also handing out products such as facial tissues and hand sanitizer to the poor.

The community’s soup kitchens also remain open with extra precautionary measures, such as limiting the number of people who can enter at one time, ensuring hygiene and physical distance between people.

Sant’Egidio encouraged people to do their part to combat isolation by reaching out with phone and video calls, letters, and messages to the elderly and disabled, especially those in institutions where they cannot be visited because of the risk of contagion.

In an interview with Vatican Media, the president of Sant’Egidio, Marco Impagliazzo, said it is important to remember the most vulnerable — such as the homeless, the elderly, and hospice patients — during this time.

“You have to find new ways to stay close to these people, naturally avoiding being infected and infecting, it is something that requires a lot of intelligence, a lot of creativity, and a lot of passion and love,” he said.

Impagliazzo noted that homeless men and women are at an even greater risk during the coronavirus outbreak, since there are fewer people giving out food or necessities.

He urged a “moral reaction” to the current crisis.

“Just as Christians pray and live, and prayer gives strength to Christians in this moment, today we need strong citizens,” he said, “citizens aware of the risk being experienced, but who respond to this risk not with fear, but with a reaction of solidarity, of attention to the common good and the good of the poorest and weakest.”

Cardinal Konrad Krajewski, who is in charge of the pope’s charity office, continued to bring food to the homeless in Rome, including close to the city’s main train station, March 12.

The cardinal also opened his titular church for prayer March 13. The church of St. Mary Immaculate all’Esquilino is located in an ethnically-diverse, and poor, area of Rome.

According to Vatican News, Krajewski announced: “in full compliance with safety standards, it is my right to ensure an open church for the poor. At 8:00 this morning, I came here and opened the door wide. In this way the poor will be able to adore the Blessed Sacrament which is the consolation for all in this moment of grave difficulty.”

Pope Francis is also lending a helping hand to Italy during the quarantine, with a gift of 100,000 euros to Caritas Italy through the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Development.

According to a press release March 11, the donation is a sign of Francis’ “spiritual closeness and paternal encouragement to people suffering from the current epidemic, and to all those caring for them.”

The money will go toward services for the poor, including shelters and soup kitchens.

March 11, two Vatican offices which manage Holy See property said they will accept requests for the temporary lowering of payments on commercial leases.

The statement from the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples and the Administration of the Patrimony of the Apostolic See (APSA) said the rent reduction is being offered to help off-set the economic difficulty caused by the spread of coronavirus and Italy’s lockdown.




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