Don Giuseppe Berardelli was a 72-year old Catholic priest of the Diocese of Bergamo, a city near Milan in the Lombardy region of Italy.
The people of his parish bought him a ventilator when he was diagnosed with the coronavirus disease. The virus is currently ravaging northern Italy, more than any place on earth. Over 50 Catholic priests, mostly in northern Italy, including Father Berardelli, have died in the past month because of the virus.
Last week over 400 people died of the virus in Bergamo, a city of 120,000 people and the birthplace and hometown of Angelo Roncalli, Pope John XXIII. Of the people in Bergamo who have tested positive for the virus, 13% have died. At Papa Giovanni XXIII Hospital in Bergamo, one of the most advanced hospitals in Europe, 500 patients need intensive care, but there are only 100 ICU beds. Military trucks come every day and haul away the bodies.
Father Giuseppe lovingly and willingly gave up the use of his ventilator, so another patient in the hospital could use it and live. He did not even know the patient who received his ventilator.
His parishioners say that Don Berardelli had a perennial smile and was always available to them. People followed him from parish to parish when he was transferred. One said, “He was a simple, straightforward person who was kind and helpful to believers and non-believers.”
Father Giuseppi was ordained a priest on June 30, 1973. Ironically, there was no funeral for Don Berardelli due to the rapid spread to the virus. But when his body was transported through town on Monday, March 16th, all the people in town came out onto the balconies of their homes and applauded, sang and cheered as his body passed by.
One of his parishioners, Clara Poli remarked, “He does not leave us alone. From up where he is now, he watches over us and continues to race through the clouds with his motorcycle. Who knows how many projects he is doing up there?”
The last act of Father Giuseppi’s life was to put his own flesh and blood on the line after hearing the words of Jesus whom he loved and lived with for 72 years. “Greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends”(John 15:13).
I doubt that many or any of us would give up our life-sustaining ventilator for a complete stranger, as did Don Berardelli. But what are you and I doing for others that we do not even know, like donating our blood, during this coronavirus pandemic?
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Fr. Med Laz