Fr Jamie McMorrin, assistant priest at St Mary's Cathedral in Edinburgh, highlighted the impact of the coronavirus in Rome on Thought for The Day on BBC Radio Scotland this morning.
Last week, the Pontifical Scots College in Rome, where young men from this country are trained for the Catholic priesthood, closed its doors for only the third time in its four hundred and twenty year history. Napoleon’s invasion at the end of the eighteenth century and the Nazi occupation of Rome during the second World War both prompted the students to seek refuge elsewhere.
The latest invasion force, of course, isn’t from a foreign army, but the Corona virus. It’s borne, not by heavy cavalry charges and aerial bombardment, but by sneezing, coughing and even by the innocent – and so typically Italian – peck on the cheek greeting.
On this feast day of St John Ogilvie, Fr Jamie McMorrin, of St Mary's Cathedral in Edinburgh, sends prayers to our friends in Italy in his Thought For The Day slot. (@BBCRadioScot) pic.twitter.com/zMj8MhTb1c
— Archdiocese of St Andrews & Edinburgh (@archedinburgh) March 10, 2020
The Scottish students heading for the airports over the weekend are, of course, the least of those affected: the whole country has gone into lockdown, with all but essential travel suspended and schools, gyms, museums and nightclubs all closed. Throughout the country, all church services have been suspended until the 3 April and Pope Francis – himself seen looking a bit under the weather last week – has cancelled all public events and will communicate via video link from within the walls of the Apostolic Palace.
All of this quite apart from the death-toll already, not to mention the millions whose livelihoods depend on the tourist industry. When I was a student there, I occasionally used to grumble about having to elbow my way through crowds of selfie-stick wielding, ice-cream eating tourists on my way to university: those crowds are nowhere to be seen on Rome’s deserted streets right now.
I’ll be glad to welcome our students home and I’m glad that they’re safe. But I’ll be sparing a thought and a prayer for the wonderful people of Italy who are left behind, and all of the government officials and medical professionals – both here in Scotland and across the world – who are facing difficult decisions in the coming weeks, and who are doing everything they can to keep people safe.
I don’t know how many Italians tune in to Good Morning Scotland, but if they’re listening: coraggio, cari amici! Your friends in Scotland are praying for you.