In March 2020, a Bergamo hospital it became the European epicenter of a tragic pandemic, then in the making. In some towns around the city, in northern Italy, COVID-19 claimed more lives in three weeks than the entire previous year. The scars still ooze.
A cold mist covers the Sanctuary of Zuccarello, in Nembro, one of the hardest hit towns in Bergamo. Matteo Cella has been a parish priest here for 10 years. His evening church service is often transformed into a tribute to the victims of the coronavirus. Between March and April 2020, almost 2% of Nembro’s population passed away.
The tragic loss of irreplaceable beings
“Beyond these statistics, there were people, people who were very special to our community. For example, a matron, 58 years old. She was a very active volunteer here in the parish, a very well known person. She took care of her own mother until She died of COVID-19. Then she contracted the virus herself, and died a week later. She had been a grandmother just a few weeks before. There was a day in March when the parish phone rang 16 times. Each call was to announce the passing of a neighbor“, declares Father Matteo Cella.
The year-on-year death rate rose by 400%. The churches stopped ringing dead bells; they had become a source of fear and anxiety. The funeral homes were overflowing. Local cemeteries had to temporarily cancel the burials.
“When the funerals were interrupted, we came here in small groups, only very close relatives. We only celebrated a very brief funeral rite, a blessing of the souls; each rite was very short, and very intense. It was our only way, the only one. language that we had to contribute a bit of humanity to end of life that had been so tormented, because many of the victims had died in total solitude, far from their loved ones “, adds the religious.
The pain and anger of those who have lost some of their loved ones
Sara and Diego know well what it is to lose loved ones in total solitude. Diego, a metal worker, lost his father and mother in just four days. Around the same time, Sara, a security officer at the Bergamo airport, lost her father.
“He was a man who gave his life to his children. And yet my father died alone. Also my mother; died alone. No one should be in such a situation. And his father’s story is more or less the same, “explains Diego Federici, the son of a married couple who died of the coronavirus.
“Yes. My father was very young. He was 67 years old. He was in very good health, he had no pathology. He spent 5 days at home with a fever. The fever did not go down. Our family doctor told us not to worry if he did not develop respiratory failure, that it looked like an ordinary flu, that it was not the coronavirus. But the fever did not go down. So, my mother decided to take my father to the hospital, to the emergency room. My father walked to the car by himself; they drove to the hospital and admitted him. And it was the last time we saw him“, relates Sara Invernizzi, daughter of a deceased by COVID-19.
Sara and Diego met in full mourning. Now they live together. Both belong to the Asociation “We will denounce“, which seeks answers and justice in the face of what did not work at the beginning of the pandemic. First in Bergamo, and then throughout Italy.
“I am very outraged. Our parents left too soon. They didn’t deserve it. Nor did 60,000 other people deserve to die like this. So many families destroyed forever by this curse. This is why we are fighting. We want justice. We want to understand what can be done, what cannot be done. We want to know if the rules were respected. And … that’s enough! “, Adds Diego Federici.
Union in pain and misfortune
A military post in Milan tests between 300 and 500 people a day. Among the medical personnel, the captain of the Italian army Karim Rachedi. He’s a military doctor, a veteran on missions in Afghanistan and Lebanon.At the beginning of the first wave, he was mobilized to support the emergency services of the overflowing main hospital in Bergamo. On one of his free afternoons, he agreed to return with us to the hospital, where tragedies were happening, minute by minute.
“I remember a man who was crying. I couldn’t stop crying. I moved closer to try to understand what was wrong with him. He told me that his son had been admitted to the same hospital for days and that he was very worried. So I accessed the computer database to check the clinical situation of your son, who was very young, had been born in 1977. I saw that he was in intensive care.I called forask how he was, and they told me he just died, a few minutes ago. I had never found myself in a similar situation. I had to turn around and tell a father that his son had just died“, says the military dorctor, Karim Rachedi.
And yet his two months in the hospital were also somewhat enriching, he says.
“My best memory is with one of our patients. He had been admitted in a critical situation. He managed to recover and was eventually discharged. He was a carpenter. And some time later he came back and he gave us little hearts that he had carved out of wood. In them you can read ‘Mola Mia’, it is Bergamo slang for the Italian expression ‘Non Mollare Mai’. ‘Never give up’ it is its meaning “, adds the doctor.
The fight against fear and resignation that COVID-19 brings
Bergamo and its nearby municipalities are still learning to live with the pandemic. Father Matteo often organizes meetings with teenagers whose lives have been rudely disrupted. Along with the pain and suffering, the tragedy has also brought here a certain new feeling of introspection and solidarity, says the parish priest.
“Some people have used the pandemic to actively find ways to be of service to the world and the community. Others have understood the need to take life more seriously, to be more responsible, and they are working on themselves to that end. It is true that not everyone has had this reaction, not everyone shares these feelings. But those who are doing it are positive examples of people who have not been defeated by fear and resignation“concludes Father Matteo Cella.