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ROME (ChurchMilitant.com) - Italy's first priest died late Friday night of the coronavirus at the age of 75 in the epidemic's epicenter of Cremona after his condition worsened irreversibly at the Maggiore Hospital.
Monsignor Don Vincenzo Rini devoted 30 years of his priestly ministry to journalism, recognizing it as "a job done not as a journalist but as a priest, to proclaim the gospel through the newspapers."
For 30 years Rini led the diocese's oldest newspaper La Vita Cattolica as its editor, steering it into its hundredth year in 2016.
Rini was elected president of Italy's National Catholic Weekly Federation (FISC) from 1999 to 2004, and later became director of the Society for Religious Information (SIR).
Even after stepping down as editor of the diocesan weekly, he continued to write for the local and national press and wrote the book Unknown Soldiers — a biography of 17 priests who he encountered in his life and who left an indelible mark on his priestly vocation. Rini also penned a novel titled A Taste for Truth.
"Being a priest is a beautiful thing. It's challenging, but it's a wonderful thing and I never regretted it for a minute." he said in an interview. "I am really happy that I became a priest, even when I'm a little down in the mood."
Rini grieved over the situation of priests who "do not behave well and set a bad example," acknowledging that people care more about a priest who causes scandal "following the ancient proverb 'a falling tree makes more noise than a growing forest.'"
"We, as priests, have a huge responsibility, because our example helps people to look favorably or negatively to the Church," he emphasized.
As an example, Rini described how his own life was transformed by the influence of Fr. Giuseppe Cacciami, founder of the Italian Federation of Catholic weekly newspapers.
"It was Fr. Giuseppe, an exceptional priest, who gave me the joy of this job [as a journalist] that I initially did not love very much but then began to carry out not as a journalist but as a priest, to proclaim the gospel through the newspapers."
"To serve information is to serve the Church," Rini would repeat when asked how he related his priesthood to journalism.
The Italian Episcopal Conference (CEI) office of social communication paid tribute to Rini remembering words the journalist-priest loved to repeat:
It is the gaze of the heavenly Father, which no betrayal, no human malice can erase or deviate, the full expression of his mercy, the true indication of mercy that must permeate the whole life of the Christian community; the image that must impress itself in the heart of every priest so that he can learn from God's merciful gaze to be his witness and proclaimer.
Rini was passionate about telling the truth and getting his facts absolutely right, Italian newspaper Avvenire noted in a tribute to Rini's journalism.
"Every time you met him on the street he asked for news. He wanted to know how our way of communication changed with new technologies, television, the internet and social media. We all loved Don Vincenzo, he was our chaplain and confidant," staff of the daily newspaper Cremona Oggi said.
Rini's beloved publication was unceremoniously shut down by diocesan Bp. Antonio Napolioni by liquidating Nuova Editrice Cremonese, the company that published the weekly.
The National Federation of the Italian Press and the Lombard Journalists Association, after unsuccessfully attempting a dignified agreement for three journalists who lost their jobs said they, "denounce this paradoxical situation, asking for the umpteenth time that a peaceful resolution of the problem is attempted, avoiding an exacerbation of the conflict that would certainly harm the good name of the Cremonese Church and its bishop."
Bishop Napolioni responded by hiring a lawyer.
Last week, Church Militant reported that Napolioni — who gained national notoriety for his hostility to the Latin Mass — has been admitted to the same hospital in Cremona "with lung symptoms attributable to COVID-19 [coronavirus]."
Don Rini also served as vicar to the parishes of Romanengo (1968–1976) and Soresina (1976–1977), and in 1977 he was promoted to pastor of Polengo: a position he held until 1985 when he took over La Vita Cattolica. He was also made canon of Cremona Cathedral.
Rini will be buried in the chapel of the canons at the Cremona cemetery. The funeral will be held in private due to the stringent government restrictions imposed on Italy.
Meanwhile, in a fast-developing situation, Church Militant is receiving news of six other priests in the diocese of Bergamo who have reportedly died of the coronavirus. Twenty other priests in the diocese have been hospitalized. The reports have yet to be confirmed and so far no official statement has been issued by the diocesan press office.