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Italy heals after coronavirus, but scars remain for priest who blessed the dead


By Angelo Amante

ROME (Reuters) - Italy's coronavirus lockdown is over and the daily death toll has dwindled, but Italians are coping with the fallout of an epidemic that has killed 35,000 people and shaken lives.

Marco Mori is a catholic priest from Brescia, one of the worst-affected cities of the Lombardy region at the epicentre of the country's COVID-19 tragedy.

In March, the Brescia province saw overall mortality up 292% compared with the average of the same month in 2015-2019. By the end of April it had recorded 2,500 confirmed COVID-19 deaths.

Soon after Lombardy discovered its first infections, Don Marco put a book in his church where people wrote their thoughts, prayers and hopes as the virus spread through the city. It will probably be published in September.

"I am 10 years old but my fear is bigger than me. I hope the Lord will help us in this bad situation and that even though we cannot go to mass he will still be able to understand us from our hearts," wrote Martina.

Father Marco saw about a dozen deaths among his own parishioners, but he blessed many more COVID-19 corpses. "March 28 was the day I blessed most bodies, around 20," he told Reuters.

He comforted patients who were trapped in their houses, fighting for breath, and performed the last rites as they slipped away.

During the long lockdown, priests from smaller towns were no longer allowed to accompany their dead church members on their final journey to Brescia crematorium, but Mori was there to give the last blessing to people he did not know.

He found himself in front of 16 coffins in a funeral home warehouse. "There was a piece of paper with a name jammed under the cross on each coffin, and the same name was written on a label stuck on the coffin to avoid confusion," he said.

On May 18, Father Marco celebrated Mass for the first time in nearly three months. "I almost cried at the sight of all those people back in the church," he said.

(Editing by Gavin Jones and Janet Lawrence)

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