With the whole nation of Italy essentially in quarantine as the coronavirus outbreak grows, the small Italian Baptist community has moved worship online and is seeking to minister in this difficult time. In the country’s epicenter of Milan, Protestant churches are working across denominational lines to create videos to replace in-person worship services.
As of March 12, more than 134,000 people globally have been infected and more than 4,900 killed by coronavirus in more than 110 countries. Italy is the second-hardest hit nation — after China — with more than 15,000 infected and more than 1,000 dead. Perhaps because of an older population and high levels of smoking, Italy is experiencing a higher mortality rate from coronavirus than most countries.
In response to the growing health crisis, Italian government officials first ordered measures to prevent public gatherings in northern Italy around Milan where the virus first spread in large number. But now the measures have moved nationwide. On March 11, Italy’s prime minister announced all businesses and shops except pharmacies and grocery stores would close until at least March 25. The country had previously closed schools, gyms, museum, and other venues.
Cristina Arcidiacono, a pastor in Milan and a member of the Board of IBTSC Amsterdam, shared through the European Baptist Federation on March 10 that the shutdown has also impacted churches.
“We, as ministers, are trying to support people in their struggle with fear and anxiety,” Arcidiacono said. “But this time is also a time for preaching the presence of God in the midst of our fears and anguishes, for looking at our faith not like an umbrella that we can open or close whenever we want to but as the gift of the Lord that let us stay in the storm with the others knowing the Christ is on the boat with us.”
Noting Milan was one of the cities virtually shut down by the restrictions, she added that various pastors of several Protestant churches that have “normal and frequent meetings” decided to hold worship services on video starting the first Sunday of March. The joint video reflection included pastors Arcidiacono as well as Methodist, Presbyterian, Salvation Army, and Waldensian pastors.
“We decided together (meeting through whataspp video call) the subject and then discussed how to develop it and then each one of us recorded a one-minute video choosing a relevant word,” Arcidiacono explained. “Last Sunday [March 8], we did the second video, based on 2Corinthians 4,7-10: ‘But we have this treasure in earthen vessels.’”
She added that she and other pastors are learning to minister in this new context.
“I am experimenting that, in this time, being useful to people means not to act, not going outside, not shaking hands — that is like a paradox,” she said. “But we can pray, and we do. Let’s pray together, one for each other, for the all world.”
Quoting a local commercial broadcast, Arcidiacono said on the website of the Unione Cristiana Evangelica Battista d’Italia (Baptist Evangelical Christian Union of Italy), that even though the city of Milan shut down, “Milan does not stop” nor does its churches as they continue to minister. She added that she hopes by stopping, they can realize better all that needs to be down in regards to coronavirus and much more.
“We want to reflect beyond the urgency and the emergency and recognize that we really need to stop,” she explained. “Around us the world is burning: in Idlib hundreds of thousands (900,000 say the UN) of Syrian families are dying of cold, fleeing the Russian airstrikes, on the border with Turkey. Many are the children. In Greece, in the refugee camps of Moria, women, men, children die of starvation, hunger, dirt, while a few kilometers away the luxury hotels host tourists. In Antarctica, the snows are melting, announcing a change that risks being irreversible. In Italy, people continue to die on the job. Stopping to look at the world around us gives us back the human dimension that belongs to us: we are interdependent on each other, there is no wall that holds.”