Cindy Wooden, Catholic News Service
ROME — As the number of people testing positive for the coronavirus in Europe continued to grow, the French Shrine of Our Lady of Lourdes announced that pilgrims were still welcome, but the pools the sick bathe in hoping for healing would be closed temporarily.
“Our first concern will always be the safety and health of the pilgrims and the shrine’s working community,” said a note posted Feb. 28 on the shrine’s website. “As a precaution, the pools have been closed until further notice.”
In the center of Rome, the French Church of St. Louis, home of three famous Caravaggio paintings, closed March 1 because a priest who had been resident at the church tested positive for the coronavirus upon returning to France Feb. 28 and was hospitalized. The 42-year-old priest was in satisfactory condition, the Archdiocese of Paris said.
The other two dozen members of the community of French priests at St. Louis were placed under a precautionary quarantine. The members included a priest who worked for Vatican Media in the former Vatican Radio building.
Paolo Ruffini, prefect of the Dicastery for Communication, wrote to Vatican media employees March 2, saying the quarantine was expected to be brief, since the priest who tested positive for the virus left Rome in mid-February; he had traveled to several cities in northern Italy, where the outbreak has been much worse. In addition, the Vatican media employee had no symptoms.
“As a prudential measure,” Ruffini said, the Vatican City health and hygiene service “sanitized and cleaned the office of our colleague and common areas” of the building.
Dioceses and religious communities across Europe adopted precautionary measures starting with advising people at Mass not to shake hands during the sign of peace. Many churches emptied holy water fonts and several dioceses recommended Catholics received Communion only in the hand.
Large indoor meetings, conferences and Lenten reflections scheduled for March also were canceled or postponed, including a meeting in Assisi, Italy, March 26-28 called “The Economy of Francis.”