‘Each day carries the fear of succumbing to the virus’: Anglicans in Italy experience coronavirus lockdown limbo

Photo: All Saints, Milan
Published March 3, 2020

The novel coronavirus and the disease caused by it (COVID-19) continues to spread around the world. As of March 3, the World Health Organization reported more than 90,000 confirmed cases of coronavirus in 74 countries, with 3,123 deaths caused by the virus. China remains the most affected country with more than 80,303 confirmed cases, followed by South Korea (4,812), Iran (2,336) and Italy (2,036).

In Italy, the government has taken emergency measures to deal with the coronavirus: locking down cities, closing many public places such as schools, and restricting movement. The majority of cases have been in the Lombardy and Veneto regions, whose respective capital cities are Milan and Venice.

The Anglican Journal emailed Anglicans in these affected areas, receiving responses from two clergy: Canon Vickie Sims, chaplain at All Saints’ Anglican Church in Milan, and Canon Malcolm Bradshaw, chaplain at St. George’s Anglican Church in Venice. We republish here their responses, which have been edited for clarity.

The first two emails describe the situation on Feb. 28, beginning with correspondence from Sims on the situation in Milan:

Our churches at Milan, Genoa, Venice [and] Padua have been affected as we are not allowed to hold any services up to and including 1st March. This has made a rather “interesting” start to Lent. [Our sister church in] Lake Como does not open until Easter.

As far as I know, no congregation members have been infected. However the restrictive measures are having a significant impact on the local economy. Anyone working in the hospitality and restaurant sector will have been affected. I’m thinking in particular of people who may do low-paid work in these sectors, who may find themselves without work or pay for several days.

We are generally feeling pretty calm, I think, but there is also some general anxiety in the air. 

Sims thanked Canadian Anglicans for their prayers and named particular groups to hold in their hearts:

[Prayers are] especially needed for medical and care staff, the elderly and vulnerable who are afraid, for those anxious about their work or businesses, for those concerned about friend or relatives, for clear minds that we may keep things in perspective and keep a sense of community and care for others, that we refrain from blaming and scapegoating. 

The same day, Bradshaw described the state of affairs in Venice:

As the pre-Lenten “Carnevale” in Venice was drawing to a close, an outbreak of coronavirus broke out among a cluster of towns in a region of northern Italy that borders the Veneto. Trains to Venice, both local and international, that had been crowded over the previous weekends for Carnevale suddenly became empty. Likewise flights from abroad. Venice itself returned to being the city of the Venetians, freed of the push and shove of overcrowding through tourism.  Consequently the city’s economy is suffering—hotels are empty and future bookings low (caused not only by coronavirus but by the lengthy flooding at the end of last year), restaurants and coffee shops have temporarily closed and supermarkets have cut down on their stock—some showing shortages of pasta and rice (panic buying).

Sadly, there are stories of verbal abuse directed at Chinese citizens resident in the city. One story is of a student at the university who has given notice that she will not attend lectures when the university re-opens because of the invectives she has received.

The city has not been placed under “quarantine”—a word that originates in Venice (during the days when Venice was at the height of its power merchant ships from the Eastern Mediterranean had to dock at a particular island for 40 days to insure they were not carrying threatening diseases before entering the city centre). “Quarantine” [comes from the Italian word for] 40. Nevertheless, for the week of 24th February to 1st March, the regional authorities placed a ban on all public “assemblies,” which led to the closure of the university, schools, museums, concerts, lectures and the prohibition of public worship. There is no knowledge as to whether or not the ban will continue into the following week. Public transport is being sprayed with disinfectant and the public is advised to stay at home as far as possible. Church bells for calling the faithful to Mass have fallen silent. However, the Patriarch of Venice ordered all church bells to be rung on Ash Wednesday to remind people of the significance of the day and that the Church, although silent, remains present within the city.  Cases of coronavirus in the city have been reported.

The Anglican church in Venice, like the other churches in the city, was not able to hold services on Ash Wednesday by order of the regional authorities, nor on the first Sunday of Lent. Nevertheless, the doors of the church were open during the times set for services so that people could use the building for private prayer. Bishop David Hamid, the lead bishop for Venice, has been in regular contact with the diocese and advice has come from it on how to administer Holy Communion, with no shaking of hands for the “peace.” Fortunately, as yet no information has emerged of a member of the church having contracted the virus, nor of anyone within the wider Anglophone community living in Venice, nor on the neighbouring mainland. At present we are in a “state of limbo” not knowing when we might be able to return to a more normal routine or what might be possible in the future. Each day carries the fear of succumbing to the virus. We are grateful for the emails of support and the offer of prayer that we have received.

What seems somewhat paradoxical is that the two churches which form part of the great panoramic view of Venice—Santa Maria della Salute, and Il Redentore—were built as acts of thanksgiving for the ending of successive plagues. On particular days each year for 400 years, and even today, Masses of thanksgiving are celebrated in these churches and popular traditions associated with those historical events observed. However, when a contemporary “plague” hits the city, a ban is issued preventing them from offering public worship. Hopefully, however, the day will quickly come when, within these same churches, a public thanksgiving will be offered for the speedy demise of the coronavirus and all who helped to combat it.

On March 2, Sims sent the following update:

The restrictive measures are in place through Sunday 8th March, with some slight variations from region to region. Religious services can be held provided people do not group together and a distance of at least a metre is kept between persons. This is a difficult criterion to meet. We have suspended all midweek activities and worship as have the Catholic and Protestant churches. We are evaluating if the criteria can be met on Sunday.

On March 3, Bradshaw similarly described ongoing restrictions in Venice:

As has been further confirmed today, the rigorous lockdown in Venice continues until midnight next Sunday. So no services next Sunday either.

The Anglican Journal will publish further updates on the coronavirus outbreak as they become available.


  • Matthew Puddister

    Matthew Puddister is a staff writer for the Anglican Journal. Most recently, Puddister worked as corporate communicator for the Anglican Church of Canada, a position he held since Dec. 1, 2014. He previously served as a city reporter for the Prince Albert Daily Herald. A former resident of Kingston, Ont., Puddister has a degree in English literature from Queen’s University and a master’s degree in journalism from the University of Western Ontario. He also supports General Synod's corporate communications.

    [email protected]

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