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By Roberto de Mattei, Corrispondenza Romana, February 19, 2020

Translation: Contributor Francesca Romana

An aura of mystery surrounds the Coronavirus, or Covid-19, as we don’t know either its origins or the real data of its diffusion, nor of its possible consequences. What we do know however, is that pandemics have always been considered as Divine chastisements in history and the sole remedy the Church took against them was prayer and penance.    

This happened in Rome in the year 590, when Gregory of the Anicia (gens) senatorial family, was elected Pope taking the name Gregory I(540-604).

Italy was devastated by diseases, famines, social disorders and the destructive wave of the Lombards. Between 589 and 590, a violent outbreak of plague, the terrible lues inguinaria, after  devastating the Byzantine territory in the East and the Frankish land in the West, had sown death and terror in the peninsula and had struck the city of Rome. The Roman citizens saw this epidemic as a Divine punishment for the corruption in the city.

The first victim the plague claimed in Rome was Pope Pelagius II, who died on February 5th, 590 and buried in St. Peter’s. The clergy and the Roman Senate elected Gregory as his successor, who, after being praefectus urbis lived in his monk’s cell on Montecelio.  After his consecration on October 3rd 590, the new Pope tackled the plight of the plague immediately. Gregory of Tours (538-594), who was a contemporary and chronicler of those events, recounts that in a memorable sermon delivered in the Church of Santa Sabina, Gregory invited  the Romans to follow – contrite and penitent – the example of the inhabitants of Nineveh: “ Look around you: behold God’s sword of wrath brandished over the entire population. Sudden death snatches us from the world, scarcely giving us a second of time. At this precise moment, oh – how many are taken up by evil  – here all around us –   unable even to think about penitence.”  ….

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