Bergamo honors coronavirus victims as inquiry opened into outbreak

Bergamo honors coronavirus victims as inquiry opened into outbreak

Cemetery and funeral workers in protective masks transport a coffin into a cemetery in Bergamo, Italy, March 16, 2020. (Credit: Flavio Lo Scalzo/Reuters via CNS.)

As one of Italy's hardest-hit regions by the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic opens an inquiry into how the outbreak started and whether it could have been prevented, local pastors are remembering the deceased with a summer of Masses.

ROME – Every day from now until September one Catholic priest in Bergamo, one of Italy’s hardest-hit regions in the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic, will be celebrating Mass to honor his compatriots who died during the country’s massive outbreak.

In the small Italian town of Clusone, in Italy’s northern Bergamo region, Monsignor Giuliano Borlini, archpriest of the Blessed Virgin of Paradise church, will be offering Mass every day of the week for victims of the coronavirus until Sept. 10, equaling 90 Masses in total.

Although his initiative has gone viral and is known throughout the city and the region, just 120 people can be inside the church at a time for the Masses, given Italy’s ongoing social distancing requirements.

In an interview with Italian newspaper Il Giornale, Borlini said, “The idea was born in the months of March and April, when I celebrated the funerals of so many, too many, deceased.”

“An intimate moment of prayer with only the closes family present, no Mass and no funeral,” he said, calling it, “A truly poignant situation.”

“Through these 90 masses, we want to reserve a memory for each of the deceased by meeting with family and friends. A gesture of fraternal closeness,” he said.

In neighboring Nembro, a large outdoor Mass will be held June 23 to commemorate the 190 people from the city who died from the coronavirus. Only around 1,000 people will be able to attend the Mass, which will be held in a large sports field, given social distancing regulations.

Civil authorities and members of the military and police forces will attend, as well as the president of the Bergamo province, Gian Franco Gafforelli.

Parishioners from Nembro and the neighboring towns of Gavarno and Lonno will also be present for the Mass, which will be celebrated by the archpriest of Nembro, Father Antonio Guarnieri.

On June 28, Italian President Sergio Mattarella will visit the Monumental Cemetery in Bergamo along with the 243 mayors of the province to remember those who died from COVID-19. On that occasion, the orchestra and choir of the Donizetti Opera Festival will perform a requiem Mass by Gaetano Donizetti, an Italian composer from Bergamo.

Meanwhile, an investigation is currently ongoing into the start of the outbreak, and whether any human errors caused the crisis in Italy to be worse that it had to be.

Specifically, the investigation, which has been extensively reported on by Avvenire, the official newspaper of the Italian bishops’ conference, is looking into what happened at the Pesenti Fenaroli hospital in Alzano Lombardo in Bergamo, on Feb. 23, when the first case of COVID-19 was registered.

According to Avvenire, after an elderly man who came in tested positive, the emergency room was shut down only to be opened a few hours later. The next day, the hospital was still receiving patients as usual.

Several healthcare workers reportedly told Avvenire that on that day, several procedural mistakes had been made, and that the hospital likely was not properly sanitized before the emergency room was reopened after the first positive case.

While that claim has been disputed, an investigative team was established to look into the event in April, and the process is still ongoing.

Another complaint made to the Bergamo prosecutor regards Feb. 19 soccer match, which drew some 45,000 Bergamo citizens to Milan despite the state of emergency declared on Jan. 31. The match has long been suspected as the source of the massive outbreak in Italy’s Lombardy region.

A new Facebook group called Noi Denunceremo, meaning the, “We will report,” has been gaining thousands of new members with the aim of putting pressure on the national and local governments to move forward with the investigation.

As of Monday, the group had roughly 60,000 members, whose objective, according to founder Luca Fusco, is to find out what was behind Italy’s massive outbreak, and if mistakes were made that allowed thousands to die.

“We were a forerunner of what is happening in Europe,” Fusco told Euronews, adding that to do justice for those who died “allows those who have suffered from the disappearance of their loved ones to take stock and try to live a new life, but above all to mourn.”

Some 50 complaints have already been made to the Bergamo prosecutor’s office in addition to the original complaint that launched the April investigation. Around 200 more complaints are expected in the coming days.

The goal of the investigations is to determine whether the management of the Alzano Lombardo hospital bears any responsibility for Italy’s outbreak, and the failure to create a red zone in the Alzano Lombardo and Nembro once the first cases had been identified.

“In those days the virus circulated without problems,” Fusco said, referring to the timeframe between the first reported case on Feb. 23, and March 8, when Lombardy was finally coded as an orange zone.

“If there had been the closure of the red zone in the province of Bergamo maybe it would not have been necessary to close all of Lombardy, and probably even the Italian lockdown would have been avoided,” he said.

In a virtual press conference held in May, Bergamo Bishop Francesco Beschi recalled the rows of coffins that lined church floors during the outbreak, waiting to be carried to other regions for cremation.

“There was a long time when the dead grew exponentially day by day,” he said, insisting that the suffering of those who could not be close to their dying loved ones “is why the presence of the Church was perceived as so significant.”

“In the days when trucks took the coffins away, I went to the Monumental Cemetery of Bergamo, in the heart,” he said, “to make myself a voice of the pain to God but also of Christian hope, and I believe that the message has been received even by those who do not believe.”

Follow Elise Ann Allen on Twitter: @eliseannallen

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