Father Richard James, a diocesan priest studying in Rome for the past 18 months, was keeping one eye on the coronavirus and one eye on his Moral Theology thesis when the situation in Italy suddenly took a turn for the worse.
“Within a week, the whole country was grinding to a halt,” he said. “The virus just exploded.” Restaurants, stores, and schools closed. Travel restrictions were being put in place. The number of cases began to increase rapidly.
Father James is home now, recalled last week by Bishop Alfred Schlert, and finishing his degree online. He’s also in a voluntary, two-week self-quarantine, and showing no symptoms of the disease.
His departure from Italy came just in time. Most commercial flights have been cancelled, the U.S. government recently warned Americans to return home or stay until the virus subsides, and the Casa Santa Maria where he lived – and where pilgrims go to pick up their Papal Audience tickets, near the Trevi Fountain – has been closed.
Italy is now one of the hardest-hit nations in the world, with more deaths from coronavirus than China.
“I have been praying for my classmates who stayed behind, and for everyone in Italy, that they are protected from the virus, and that the country can soon begin its recovery,” Father James said.
He recalls strolling past the city’s famous landmarks, normally crowded with tourists, and finding them empty. “There was no one at the Trevi Fountain, or the Colosseum,” he said. On the streets of Rome, usually a cacophony of traffic, honking and buzzing motor-scooters, there was quiet.
As the virus spread throughout Rome, Father James said he was fortunate that he had already finished research for his thesis, “Fraternal Correction Within the Priesthood,” because libraries were among those institutions closed to prevent spread of the disease.
He expects to complete his studies in June.