ROME — Matteo Salvini, the leader of Italy’s opposition party, has called for churches to be open at Easter, insisting people should be able to care for their spiritual health as they care for their bodies.
“I can’t wait for science — and also the good God, because science alone is not enough — to defeat this monster so we can go out again,” Mr. Salvini said on national television. “Easter is coming and we also need the protection of the Immaculate Heart of Mary.”
“I support the requests of those who ask to attend Easter Mass, in an orderly, composed, and safe way, maybe even in groups of three, four, or five,” Salvini said. “You can go to the tobacconist because people can’t get along without cigarettes, but for many the care of the soul is just as fundamental as the care of the body.”
“I hope that we will find a way for believers to go to church,” he said. “An appeal has been sent to the bishops to permit the faithful to enter church as they are permitted to go to the supermarket, respecting the distances, with masks and gloves, and in limited numbers.”
“Easter, the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ, can be a moment of hope to live for millions of Italians,” Salvini said.
Last week, the Italian government declared that praying in church is not a sufficient reason to leave one’s home under the coronavirus lockdown, unlike activities such as purchasing cigarettes or newspapers, walking a dog, or going to the supermarket.
Many Italian Catholics are voicing their disappointment with Church leadership in the face of violations of religious liberty, including the classification of worship as a nonessential activity.
Elisabetta Valgiusti, founder of a Catholic advocacy group called Save the Monasteries, has launched a petition asking bishops to restore Masses and the other sacraments to the faithful during the coronavirus lockdown.
“We appeal for the recognition of the personal need of every member of the Catholic faithful to participate in the Holy Mass so that each person can actively worship while respecting the current legislation,” reads the petition, which numerous clergy and laypeople have signed.
“Therefore, we urgently ask of the competent authorities, both ecclesiastical and civil, to resume liturgical celebrations with the participation of the faithful, especially Holy Mass on weekdays and on Sundays, adopting the provisions appropriate to the directives for the Covid-19 health emergency,” it states.
Catholics in the United States have launched a similar appeal in the form of an open letter to the American bishops begging for the restoration of the sacraments to the faithful.
“Something is terribly wrong with a culture that allows abortion clinics and liquor stores to remain open but shuts down places of worship,” the letter states. “While safety and cooperation with civil authorities is necessary, we must do everything we can to have access to what is essential for our spiritual lives. We should certainly not voluntarily deprive ourselves of the sacraments.”
“Bishops, we your faithful flock, implore you to do everything you can to make the sacraments more available to us during this crisis,” the letter says.
In the list of requests to the bishops, the letter urges them to demand that civil authorities “recognize religious services as essential services,” a provision at the core of religious liberty as well as recent debates regarding the essential nature of worship to people of faith.