ROME (ChurchMilitant.com) - After growing pressure from laity amid the Wuhan virus crisis, the Italian Episcopal Conference (CEI) has agreed to entrust Italy to the "protection of the Mother of God as a sign of salvation and hope."
The act of entrustment will take place on May 1 at 9 p.m. in the basilica of Santa Maria del Fonte, Caravaggio, in the diocese of Cremona, Bergamo province, which is at the epicenter of the pandemic, a CEI press statement announced.
CEI president Cdl. Gualtiero Bassetti admitted that the laity had forced the bishops into taking this step. "The shepherds have the task of leading their flock, but often it is the flock who push the shepherds, as in this case," he confessed in a CEI video statement.
"I received more than 300 letters full of love and devotion for the Virgin Mary asking: 'Why don't you dedicate our nation to Mary's Immaculate Heart?' Why not entrust to Mary all who are suffering from this pandemic and all those who work in hospitals and must tend to their brethren?" revealed the cardinal, who has been described as "as a prelate cut from the same cloth as the present pontiff."
Lay Catholic sources told Church Militant they were dissatisfied with the "band aid" and "lukewarm" response of the bishops. "They talk politics and never name God," an academic from Milan lamented. "They are more comfortable talking about immigration than they are in calling for repentance — which will turn God's wrath from us as in the days of St. Charles Borromeo," she added.
Speaking to Church Militant, director of Tradition Family Property's (TFP's) Rome bureau Juan Miguel Montes emphasized that "it is the CEI itself honestly recognizing that it is moving because it is driven by the flock."
"The bishops' decision to entrust Italy to Mary," he explained, "is their responding to the perplexity and outrage manifested by the faithful towards a certain passivity and lack of spiritual guidance demonstrated by the shepherds since the beginning of the pandemic (and even before), regarding the great moral evils that affect society and threaten the eternal salvation of souls."
Montes agreed that the act to be held in Caravaggio is of "great spiritual importance because the Mother of God is also 'Mater Misericordiae' and 'Salus Infirmorum' and, as a well-known prayer of St. Bernard says, 'It has never been heard in the world that anyone who resorted to her protection was abandoned.'"
However, "it needs to be done with a contrite and humble spirit as the psalmist says. Only then can we expect the Madonna to hear the plea addressed to her as she has done before," he continued.
"Because in Italy and in the West, we have promulgated laws that violate the natural and divine order, such as abortion. We have sinned too much and it is necessary to ask for forgiveness from God," Montes stressed.
The consecration will take place at the Sanctuary of Carvaggio where Our Lady appeared in a field to Giovannetta Varoli, a sick peasant woman, on May 26, 1432.
Mary told the woman that Jesus was angry with the sins of the people, but God would have mercy for them if they repented and changed their ways — otherwise, He would punish them all.
Varoli reported Mary's words:
The Most High Almighty, my Son, wanted to destroy this earth because of the iniquity of men, because they do what is evil every day and fall into sin after sin. But for seven years, I prayed for mercy to the Son for their sins. Therefore, I want you to tell every one to fast on bread and water every Friday in honor of my Son, and that, after vespers, celebrate celebrate Saturday in gratitude for the many and great favors obtained by my Son through my intercession.
Where the Madonna appeared, a healing stream gushed out and the sick woman was miraculously cured. The waters have flowed since then and other healings have been reported. In 1575, Charles Borromeo, archbishop of Milan, hired architect Pellegrino Pellegrini to enlarge the sanctuary.
The Italian bishops have been reluctant to attribute the present pandemic to God's indignation against sin. When asked if the pandemic was divine chastisement, Basetti replied: "God does not chastise, but loves with infinite love."
"Divine punishment does not exist. It is an incorrect view of Christianity," Cdl. Angelo Scola, former archbishop of Milan, told La Repubblica when asked if Christianity supported the vision of a divine punishment behind the Wuhan virus.
On Good Friday, papal preacher Fr. Raniero Cantalamessa claimed that the Wuhan virus is not some form of divine punishment but a tragic event that, like all suffering in life, is used by God to awaken humanity.
"We are still working out the liturgy of the act of entrustment: There will probably be the recitation of the Rosary, as happened in the other moments of prayer organized by the CEI, followed then by an explicit prayer of entrustment of our country to Mary before the image of the Madonna of Caravaggio," Bishop of Cremona Antonio Napolioni said.
"Geographically, Caravaggio is located in the center of Lombardy and is the current meeting place for bishops, associations and parish groups," he added.
Napolioni, who gained notoriety across Italy for his hostility to the Latin Mass, became the first bishop in Italy — and possibly in the world — to be hospitalized as a result of suspected infection from the Wuhan virus.
Italy was first consecrated to Our Lady on Sept. 13, 1959 on the final day of the 16th National Eucharistic Congress. Over 400,000 people took part "praying that the time will come, promised by you, in which your Immaculate Heart will triumph in this land of ours and all over the world."