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Coronavirus forces Scots College seminary to close

Scottish seminarians studying at the Pontifical Scots College in Rome have been sent home amid Italy's COVID-19 lockdown. It is the third time in history where the college has been forced to close. — By Peter Diamond and Ryan McDougall

The Pontifical Scots College in Rome has been forced to send their 20 seminarians home as the COVID-19 outbreak forced the whole of Italy into lockdown.

Founded in 1600, this is only the third time in its 420-year history where the seminary has been forced to close its doors, and is the first time where a virus has been the reason for closure.

College rector Fr Dan Fitzpatrick is currently still residing at the college, which sent all 20 of its students home last week.

It comes as the Italian Government announced all universities would be closed until March 15, and later announced they would remain closed until April 3.

This means seminarians will be in Scotland to attend Holy Week and the Chrism Masses, something which has not happened for centuries.

Pastoral placements

Rome’s universities have been keen to continue theology and philosophy classes online and have introduced Google Hangouts, webcam lectures and online teaching resources.

As seminarians are anticipated to be away from Rome for a lengthy stint, it is expected they will take part in pastoral placements within their dioceses, either in cathedrals or parishes in the coming weeks. On Tuesday March 10, the Feast of St John Ogilvie, Fr Dan Fitzpatrick wrote on Twitter: “Very strange to celebrate the Feast of St John Ogilvie in an empty college. May he intercede for us.”

The Italian government announced on the same day that the country had gone into lockdown—and the priest asked that Catholics keep ‘us all in your prayers,’ later adding: “This is a very strange situation to be in. No public Masses in the whole of Italy.”

As the SCO went to press, there were over 121,300 confirmed cases of the coronavirus worldwide, according to Worldometers, with almost 4,400 deaths.

70,000 people have made recovery after testing positive for the virus.

Virus impact

The Scots College temporarily closed in 1798 during Napoleon’s invasion of Rome and again during the Second World War.

In Scotland, Fr Jamie McMorrin, assistant priest at St Mary’s Cathedral, Edinburgh, highlighted the impact of the virus in Rome as he gave the Thought For The Day on BBC Radio Scotland’s Good Morning Scotland programme on March 10.

He told radio listeners: “The latest invasion force, of course, isn’t a foreign army, but the coronavirus. It’s borne, not be heavy cavalry charges and aerial bombardment, but by sneezing, coughing and even y the innocent—and so typically Italian—peck on the cheek greeting.”

All church services in Italy have been suspended until April 3 and Pope Francis has cancelled all public events amid the outbreak, but has been communicating with Catholics of the world via video streaming.

Death toll

Fr McMorrin, who was a student at the Scots College, said: “All of this quite apart from the death toll already, not to mention the millions whose livelihoods depend of 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 n my way to university: those crowds are nowhere to be seen on Rome’s deserted streets right now.”

He added: ‘I’ll be glad to welcome out students home and I’m glad 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 into Good Morning Scotland, but if they’re listening: coraggio, cari amici! [Courage, dear friends!] Your friends in Scotland are praying for you.”

Vatican lockdown

Italian police closed St Peter’s Square on Tuesday 10 following the Italian Government decree extending quarantine measures to all of Italy in order to slow the spread of the virus. Swiss guards are currently surrounding the square, and confirmed that tourists and pilgrims cannot enter the basilica to pray.

The many thousands of priests who reside in Rome Diocese are still able to celebrate Masses privately, despite the cancelation of all public Masses.

Italian citizens are advised to stay indoors, but are allowed to travel to work, for groceries and pharmacies.

The Vatican City State has its own legal order that is independent of the Italian legal system, however the Holy See’s Press Office confirmed that the Vatican is implementing measures to prevent the spread of the virus in unity with Italian authorities.

Scottish Bishops

The Bishops’ Conference of Scotland last week introduced a set of temporary measures to stop the spread of COVID-19 in parishes, as chalices and Holy Water have been removed from churches, the sign of peace has been discouraged, Communion is largely being taken by hand and those who feel ill have been discouraged from attending Mass.

This week, Bishop Joseph Toal of Motherwell made the decision to have all offertory collections and other special collections take place at the end of Mass as parishioners leave churches. Hymn books have also been replaced with single sheets.

A spokesperson for Motherwell Diocese stated the bishop is ‘currently considering pastoral placements for his cohort of seminarians.’

Poland

Poland has adopted a different approach in tackling the spread of the coronavirus, as the country’s bishops have announced that Sunday Masses should take place more frequently in order to reduce overcrowding, which in turn is hoped to reduce number of new cases.

Archbishop Stanislaw Gadecki of Poznan, said: “Just as hospitals treat illnesses of the body, the Church is there to heal illnesses of the soul.

“That’s why it’s unimaginable that we should not pray in our churches.

“With regards to the demands of the Chief Sanitation Inspector for there not to be mass gatherings of people, we ask for enlargements—if possible—of the number of Sunday Masses in churches, so the appropriate number of churchgoers can participate in a Mass at a given moment.”

Sick and elderly Polish Catholics have been encouraged to pray at home and watch Mass on television, and all churches remain open for private prayer.

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