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More than 80 percent of people in Italy are Catholic. Italy is known as the home of the Catholic Church since it’s where the first pope, Saint Peter, began and ended his work. A religious group that has stood strong for the last two thousand years is now seeking help.

Fabio Marella is a priest in Florence, Italy. In his free time, he also works in a hospital encouraging sick children while running a charity called “Caritas Diocesana.” In the last year, Marella has seen the positive and negative effects COVID-19 has brought on their believers.

There are many important celebrations leading up to Easter for Catholics. To many Italians, this is the most important holiday.

This year, many of their favorite traditions were canceled. One of them is called Carnivale. This celebration takes place in Venice and is highly anticipated by the community and tourists alike. Parades and masquerade balls are thrown for the public’s enjoyment. Milena Scarazatto, a devoted Catholic said “It’s a dream, it’s a unique celebration. It’s something that makes you live free.”

Another important day is Ash Wednesday which falls on the first day of Lent. This is a day of repentance for people’s sins. Priests will mark believers’ foreheads with ash to symbolize this. Special traditions such as this one cannot be done at home. Another tradition is called Blessings of the Families. In past years Marella would go to believers’ homes and bless them with holy water.

This year, a majority of their religious traditions have stopped. “COVID destroyed all traditions.” Said Scarazzato.

Another important aspect impacted by COVID-19: the church’s charity work. Marella relies on his religious community to take part in helping the poor. In most years, elderly people were active in donations and their ministries. Since they are most at risk, many do not participate anymore.

This year, with empty pews and fewer offerings, he made a plea. Marella asked the younger generations to involve themselves in church and participate in helping the poor in their community. The next morning, Marella received more than 500 calls from young people offering their services. “It was incredible, many young people came forward and an empty church was now full of life.” Said Marella.

Although this year has been a quieter year for the Catholic community, Marella believes it has brought something historic. “COVID birthed something important, it could be the birth of a renovated church because people who were once on the outside are now involved.” He said.

Since Easter is an important holiday for their religious group, a special service is believed to happen in person and online throughout most Catholic Church’s in Italy this year.