In drastic step, Italy bishops cancel weekday Masses in coronavirus areas

FILE PHOTO: View inside Milan's Duomo cathedral, as it reopened to the public for the first time since the coronavirus outbreak in northern Italy, in Milan, Italy, March 2, 2020. REUTERS/Yara Nardi/File Photo

VATICAN CITY (Reuters) - Italy’s bishops on Thursday ordered that Masses not be held during the week in churches in areas of the north of the country affected by the coronavirus outbreak, a step believed to be unprecedented.

It was believed to be the first time such a draconian step had been taken in Italy, the European country worst hit so far by the coronavirus outbreak. Masses were not even canceled when the plague struck Milan in the 17th century.

A statement from the bishops conference said Masses would not be held from Monday to Saturday in churches in the Lombardy, Veneto and Emilia Romagna region as well as in the provinces of Savona in the Liguria region and Pesaro and Urbino in the Marche region.

The statement did not mention Masses on Sunday, when according to Church teaching Catholics are obliged to attend Mass unless they are ill.

The move comes during the season of Lent, where more Catholics go to weekday Mass than at other times during the year.

The Italian government has ordered the closure of cinemas and theaters and has told Italians not to shake hands or hug each other. Schools and universities have been closed until March 15.

The death toll from coronavirus in Italy stood at 107 on Wednesday while the accumulative number of cases totaled almost 3,090.

Several conferences that were to have taken place in the next few months with the participation of Pope Francis have been postponed.

The Vatican has said the 83-year-old pope, who canceled a Lent retreat for the first time in his papacy, is currently suffering from a cold that is “without symptoms related to other pathologies”.

Reporting By Philip Pullella; Editing by Gareth Jones