ROME—As Italy continues to grapple with the coronavirus, Pope Francis’ right-hand man for charitable efforts says that this modern-day “plague” has led to a rediscovery of the culture of life.

In a low-key Mass celebrated at the tomb of St. John Paul II, Polish Cardinal Konrad Krajewski said that since the arrival of the “unfortunate virus in Italy, the plague, from that very moment, something changed: all of the sudden, we started to care for every life.”

“We have become lovers of life: we have ceased to represent the culture of death that John Paul II spoke of,” he said in a Feb. 27 homily.

Krajewski runs the papal Rome-based charitable office, through which he’s installed showers for the homeless under the colonnades of St. Peter’s Square, opened a dorm in a palace adjacent to the Vatican for the poor, and opened the Vatican museums at night for people who can’t afford the ticket.

Krajewski said that since the virus began spreading in Italy, no one is having discussions about the right a person with Down Syndrome has to live or if it is up to the expectant mother to choose to abort it. Neither are Italians talking about euthanizing the elderly, and “there are no ‘equality’ marches that are really against equality and against freedom.”

“People don’t talk about abortion, or about euthanasia, because everyone is talking for life,” he said. “We are looking for vaccines, we are taking precautions to guarantee that we can save lives.”

“Everybody is choosing life today, beginning with the media,” Krajewski said. “God loves live. He does not want the death of the sinner, he wants for the sinner to convert.”

Italy has become the European epicenter of the coronavirus, with 5,883 cases and 233 deaths, the most fatalities outside mainland China. On Sunday, Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte signed a decree putting millions of people in the entire Lombardy region, as well as 14 other provinces, under travel restrictions, and decreed the suspension of schools, university classes, theaters and cinemas, as well as bars, nightclubs, and sports events for the entire country.

Also on Sunday, the Italian national airline Alitalia announced that it will suspend national and international service to and from Milan’s Malpensa airport. The last Alitalia service for Milan Malpensa, the carrier said, will be flight AZ 605 from New York, scheduled to land at 10:40 am on Monday morning.

After details of the restrictions were leaked Saturday evening in the Italian press, highways and the Milan train station became crowded with people attempting to leave the Lombardy region before the restrictions went into effect.

“We limit our freedom- you cannot leave cities, all meetings are suspended, people in northern Italy don’t go to work,” Krajewski said. “Why? Because we want to live.”

The 40-day before Easter known as Lent, the cardinal said, is about the same thing: choosing life over death. This time of fasting, Krajewski said, is a time to look at ourselves before God, with three medicines that allow us to choose freedom, “the resurrection” instead of death.

The first medicine, he said, are “silent deeds of mercy,” that can be small, but are always focused on other people.

The second is prayer, and he suggested a “small resolution:” Whenever you pass in front of a church, go in for a moment and “be in the center of the world,” because the “Eucharistic Jesus is the greatest treasure we have.”

“This is the second medicine. Prayer- looking at God and asking him: Jesus, do you love me? Take care of me,” he said.

The third medicine against death, Krajewski said, is fasting, such as making small savings each day, through for instance, giving up dessert or a cappuccino, and then giving that money to charity. During the homily, he told the story of once being called by Pope Francis who gave him a box that had been sent by a woman from Milan. Inside, there were $11,000 in bills of 10 and 20 Euro.

“She saved money by turning off the lights when she wasn’t in a room, gave up the second dish at dinner, had no dessert, and put all that money away, to then send it to the pope,” Krajewski said. When he told the pontiff there were thousands there, Francis looked at him and reportedly said: “You don’t understand anything… there are millions there. This is Lent.”

Paulina Guzik contributed to this story.

Follow Inés San Martín on Twitter: @inesanma

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