Many of us have met Don Gino Franchi, pastor of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton parish, Livorno, Italy, and Lara Bellagotti, his assistant. While on pilgrimage in St. Elizabeth Ann Seton’s footsteps, we may have celebrated liturgy in the beautiful, light-filled church in Livorno, prayed at the statues of Antonio Filicchi, Elizabeth and William Seton in the parish courtyard, and enjoyed the warm hospitality of the parishioners. We may have met Don Gino and Lara on one of their parish trips to the United States, which always included a visit to New York.
In Italy, the COVID-19 pandemic has taken many lives. On Easter Monday, April 11, Lara emailed with the news that she, Don Gino and the people of the parish were safe, well and grateful for our prayers. In Livorno, she reported, only a few have been hospitalized and there have been only two virus-related deaths. The north of Italy has been much more hard-hit.
Lara went on to offer her thoughts about the pandemic. In this excerpt from her message, her hope and inspiration are contagious:
“ … We have lived an unusual Lent. A Lent of real DESERT! A time of symbolic deprivation which has turned into real and literal deprivation … [F]or too many people, it has brought the pain of job loss, illness and death. We have come to a ‘STOP,’ to a landmark …,” marked by silence and loneliness..
“But,” she continued, “the empty St. Peter’s Square, where the Pope stood still in the rain on the 27th of March, had never been so crowded! All the world was there through the media.”
Lara cites a commentator who describes our modern way of life as “self-referring,” where a person flows through his/her own life “like a tourist,” more intent on “shifting” than on “staying.” But with the pandemic, she muses, “at last we have time for playing with our children, time to stop and think, time to notice and become aware of our neighbor. Time for charity. Time for volunteering. Time to stop in front of a mirror and look at [a]…being who is not almighty.”
Echoing the words of Pope Francis’ Easter Vigil homily, Lara writes that, out of the darkness and silence of Holy Saturday, with “the resurrection of Jesus let us acquire a fundamental right which can never be taken away from us: THE RIGHT TO HOPE. Jesus is Hope in our uncertainties; in His Resurrection we find real life!”
She closes by asking Mother Seton to watch over us with care. She assures the Sisters and Daughters of Charity in North America that the bond of charity linking us is strong: “We are praying for you all, for your service and for your lives.”
Thank you, Lara and Don Gino!
Sister Regina Bechtle, SC (New York)