Vancouver priest Rev. Davide Lanzani compares Rome to a war zone.
All major sites typically swarming with people – St. Peter’s Square, the Coliseum, the Piazza Venezia, the Trevi Fountain – are empty. Schools and businesses are closed and no one is permitted to leave home, save for buying food, medical emergencies, or other immediate needs. Lineups for grocery stores extend down the block.
“It feels like living in a war. You’re on a battlefield and all the rules have changed suddenly,” Father Lanzani said from a home on the outskirts of Rome.
“Every time you travel, you need to sign a paper that the government has placed, declaring where you’re going, where you’re coming from, and the reason you’re getting out of your house.”
The strict measures are Italy’s response to COVID-19, the new coronavirus that by March 18 had infected more than 31,000 people and killed 2,978 of them. It has overwhelmed hospitals struggling to care for a high number of patients with serious respiratory problems.
“The number of people that are dying is still going up every single day so we are still praying and staying home as much as we can and following what the government is putting out to protect us,” said Father Lanzani.
The young priest was ordained in the Archdiocese of Vancouver in 2015. After his ordination he flew to Rome, the town where he grew up, to pursue a degree in Missiology at the Canadian Pontifical College. That’s where he was when COVID-19 broke out.
The new coronavirus spread in Italy in a mad fury. His college, near the Vatican, was closed soon after the outbreak and most Canadian students flew back home. Father Lanzani decided to wait out the storm with his parents and sister in Rome.
Since then, his studies have resumed online. The government decree to close schools is in effect until April 3, but Father Lanzani doubts classes will immediately reopen as usual. He still can’t leave home except to buy groceries.
“It’s quite shocking,” he said. “I have never seen Rome so empty and so spectral ever in my life.”
Italy might be an eerie place to live right now, but Father Lanzani said he draws hope from the Gospel of Mark, which tells of Jesus is sleeping in a boat as his disciples try to navigate a terrifying storm.
“Their hearts were filled with fear, waves were crashing on the boat, and Jesus Christ was sleeping,” said Father Lanzani. “We are right now in this storm. It seems like Jesus is sleeping and not seeing the situation around us.”
While a dangerous virus threatens to capsize the boat, Father Lanzani said it is important to remember Jesus’ words to the disciples when he woke up.
“He turns to the apostles and tells them: ‘Have you no faith?’ Somehow these words go through my heart because at the end, I see it as a huge opportunity to throw myself in the hands of Jesus Christ. That is my anchor in these difficult times.”
The streets and famous places of Italy might be closed and empty right now, but Father Lanzani has seen people buoy each other’s spirits by singing or calling to their neighbours from balconies and hanging encouraging messages and children’s drawings out their windows.
“We are all in the same boat and we are fighting together. That is something you can really see every time you put your face outside and see people and listen to the news,” he said.