WILMINGTON, Delaware — So many people are keeping a close watch on the impact of coronavirus in Italy and elsewhere, but few are paying closer attention than Father Stanislao Esposito.

The pastor of St. John the Baptist-Holy Angels Parish in Newark, Delaware, was born in Naples and his mother, Teresa, 83, two sisters and a brother are among family members who currently live in his native country.

Italy has been hard hit by the novel coronavirus, and the Italian bishops’ conference has suspended all public Masses until at least April 3, following orders from the government to restrict public gatherings.

Esposito has stayed in touch with his family and followed the goings-on through online news accounts and social media.

“They are really stressed out, the whole town is,” Esposito said of his family in an interview with The Dialog, newspaper of the Diocese of Wilmington. He said his family members are keeping a close eye on his mother as the elderly are most vulnerable, but thus far no one in his family has become ill.

The health scare is worrisome enough. Also being told they cannot go to public Mass has some people unhappy even though most parishes are streaming private Mass online.

“People didn’t react very nicely at the beginning,” he said. “They wanted to go to Mass. The church is following the orders of the government. The church agreed to do whatever needed to be done.”

Everyday life is strained, Esposito said. People are allowed to enter pharmacies and grocery stores only in small numbers, businesses are suffering, especially those near to St. Peter’s Square and there are to be no public gatherings. All types of reactions came as a result of restrictions.

“Even people who don’t usually go to church wanted to go because they were being told not to,” the priest said.

The April 3 restriction date seems random, but Esposito said he believes officials want to do what they can and then reassess.

“The thinking is, ‘If we all stay home and avoid contact with each other, we will be able to contain it.’ Then they will have to reevaluate,” he said.

Esposito said he has a friend in quarantine in Italy who had concelebrated with another priest who later tested positive. He said his mother is basically staying at home through the crisis, mindful that elderly are among the most vulnerable. He said large segments of Italy’s population live in apartments and people are looking out for one another. Younger people are helping with shopping and retrieving supplies for their older neighbors.

But the stress on residents is evident.

“It’s not pleasant on so many levels,” he said.

The longtime pastor of St. Mary, Star of the Sea Parish in Ocean City, Maryland, Esposito was appointed to the Newark parish in the Diocese of Wilmington last year. He said he’d been hoping to visit his family at some point this year. Getting in and out of Italy is not so simple in the time of coronavirus. He’s hoping for an ease in restrictions that will enable him to visit.

Owens is editor of The Dialog, newspaper of the Diocese of Wilmington.

Crux is dedicated to smart, wired and independent reporting on the Vatican and worldwide Catholic Church. That kind of reporting doesn’t come cheap, and we need your support. You can help Crux by giving a small amount monthly, or with a onetime gift. Please remember, Crux is a for-profit organization, so contributions are not tax-deductible.