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Bishop tells of surviving COVID-19

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Bishop Derio Olivero of Pinerolo, Italy, gives a homily June 14, 2020, at an outdoor Mass he celebrated to thank the doctors and nurses who cared for him during the 47 days he was hospitalised with COVID-19. PHOTO: CNS/Lino Gandolfo, Vita Diocesana Pinerolese

Closeness to death revealed the power of God

A bishop in northern Italy who had been intubated for 17 days and almost died of COVID-19 celebrated an outdoor evening Mass June 14 with doctors, nurses, hospital staff and Caritas volunteers who have been helping others during the pandemic.

Bishop Derio Olivero of Pinerolo said he wanted to show his gratitude by celebrating Mass so that those who care for others could “spend an hour enjoying the care of God, because God always takes care of us, even during the pandemic”.

About 400 people, including the head of the intensive care unit at Pinerolo’s Agnelli hospital, attended the Mass in the courtyard of the diocesan seminary; everyone in the congregation wore masks and the chairs were set six feet apart.

“I know what it means to not be able to breathe from COVID; it’s horrible.”

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For a believer, there always is a future with God, and not even death can derail it, the bishop said before Mass. “I saw how death could come — for two or three days it was very near. But do you know how amazing it is to be able to say, ‘Death, I don’t want you; you will not have the last word, because God is stronger than you are and you will never block my future.'”

“God takes care of us and that is really what leaves us breathless,” the bishop said, referencing the way the coronavirus attacks a person’s lungs. “I know what it means to not be able to breathe from COVID; it’s horrible.”

“One day all of us will stop breathing,” he said, “but our affections will remain, and the care of God will not stop even then.”

A woman has her temperature checked before entering St. Peter’s Basilica at the Vatican May 18, 2020, after the basilica reopened to the public during the COVID-19 pandemic. PHOTO: CNS/Remo Casilli, Reuters

The bishop was hospitalised from 19 March 19-5 May. In his homily, Bishop Olivero noted how philosophers and theologians for millennia have looked at the question of why evil exists.

“Evil can have the face of an illness — we have seen that,” he said. “Or the death of a loved one — we’ve seen that, too.”

Facing anything from a toothache to a terminal illness, everyone has asked why evil exists, “and we’ve asked it even more often in this time of the coronavirus,” the bishop said.

“God takes care of us and that is really what leaves us breathless.”

But he encouraged people at the Mass to notice how no healthy person ever says, “Finally, something bad is happening to me.” Rather, they always say, “This should not be happening. Life should not be this way.”

When a person goes for a hike in the mountains or receives a warm embrace or is helped in a time of trouble, “you think, ‘Ah, this is life,'” he said.

Bishop Olivero said he was not able to eat anything for days while in the hospital. “I dreamed of gorgonzola,” a pungent cheese native to northern Italy. And, after a couple of days of drinking only water, a nurse asked if he wanted a teaspoon full of coffee mixed in. “Wow,” he said. “It was amazing.”

“All of this tells us that we were born for things that are good and beautiful,” he said.

“At a time when we all feel more fragile and exposed, at risk, even closer to suffering or immersed in it, we must remember that God created, moulded and formed us for what is beautiful and good. And that is fantastic.”

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