Being A Priest During A Pandemic

Domenico Manuli is one of the first priests in Italy to adapt to new modalities to stay close with and support believers during the lockdown.

Priest Domenico Manuli

Domenico Manuli is one of the first priests in Italy to adapt to new modalities to stay close with and support believers during the lockdown

Domenico Manuli is a young Sicilian priest that after getting to the top of the shiny world of Italian fashion, working for the most important ateliers, received the vocation and decided to leave everything and become God’s soldier. During this pandemic, he has been one of the first priests in Italy to adapt to new modalities, given by the Vatican, to stay close with and support believers during the lockdown imposed by the state. Furthermore, we will also discuss with him other religious issues: will the Church, sooner or later, modernize? Will the clergy have more freedom?

According to the Church-State Concordat, do you believe the restrictions imposed to face the emergency that we are experiencing, prohibiting, even if in a measured manner, the participation of believers in Church’s activities, to be an adequate decision?

Yes, I think that the Italian government made the right choice. In an emergency, which both Italy and the whole world are facing, it exists a common good to safeguard, together with the health of all citizens, which is an immense gift. Therefore, the decision to stopping public celebrations, even if painful and difficult, has been a moral duty to block the spread of the virus who brought fear and death to our society. But, at the same time, I can assert that it also brought time to humanity to reflect on life, in a very deep way.

Did you receive instructions and advice from the Vatican, through bishops, on how to act to be as close as possible to believers? What instruments have been provided to you?

Both the Italian Episcopal Conference and the Vatican asked us to stay in touch with believers using various means of communication; through a phone call or even better through streaming masses online, not to make them miss Eucharistic Celebrations. In addition, the diocese organized, with the support of Caritas, to help sustain needy families, seen that one of the consequences of the Covid-19 emergency has been the loss of jobs for many people. In my small community, right now, we are helping 20 families delivering them nourishment once a week. So far, the food has been donated by other parishioners but it is not excluded that if this bad situation will continue, we will ask for the help of Caritas.

Be a priest in time of Covid-19: how are you able to preserve the same communitarian spirit of the in-person mass even with Facebook streaming celebrations seeing that the beauty of the direct human contact has been lost?

Pope Francisco addresses this issue too, underlining that the streamed mass online doesn’t have the same value as the real one; obviously, it is a temporary compromise due to this pandemic. However, I have to admit that Facebook lives permit people to be more engaged having the chance to interact with me directly, asking to say a prayer or commenting on the different parts of the celebration. In addition, at the beginning and at the end of a live video, I start a dialogue with them, firstly to welcome and say hello to them calling the people by name and in the end to give them strength. A few days back, a follower told me that my celebration seemed more like a meeting among friends than a common mass and, in the end, it should be exactly an encounter of God’s children invited to the Father’s house on Earth. After all, I can testify that the human contact is still there.

What kind of feedback do you get from your followers after a mass in streaming?

In a “normal time” at the end of the mass I would go outside the church to shake the hands of my parishioners; today it is not yet possible. In any case, the human contact has remained, each time that I feel it, I am both amazed and touched, and people continue to demonstrate it through comments, messages full of hope and request of prayers for many situations. My goal is that of transmitting tranquility and serenity, using faith to spread my message of hope and courage every day.

For a “sui generis” priest such as you, who has been a fashion stylist for Dolce & Gabbana, who duetted with Giorgia and took part in the television show Italy’s Got Talent, is it difficult to accept the renunciations imposed by the cassock?

I always live life with huge enthusiasm and vitality. The renunciations imposed by the Church could be heavy to accept but in general it depends on you. You can live with them well if your heart is in love. I have left behind my career because I felt in love with God, I have found in Him that joy and that force that I needed and this is the engine that makes me fully live and withstand any kind of frustration which can originate from certain renunciations, letting me focus on my mission: to transmit that joy to anyone I bump into on my road.

Domenico Manuli’s fashion sketch

Even nowadays, the Catholic Church, despite Pope Francis demonstrating progressive views in different areas, maintains an attitude of closure concerning the clergy, continuing to deny their right to create a family, therefore their right to marry. What do you think in this regard?

The Church has thousands of years of history and it has its times, sadly very slowly, to treat various issues, but cautiously proceeding is part of its nature. Regarding priests getting married, I am favorable as it is contemplated in the Holy Scriptures. Furthermore, until 1020 A.D. the clergy had the right to marry and have their own family. Then, with the excesses there have been in the course of history, the Church has been obliged to abolish this permission, that even if in biblical sources there remains a debatable theme. I hope one day we can get back to the primitive tradition, even if I will not marry, as, in my opinion, it would be possible to be a good priest and have a family at the same time. Actually, as Saint Paul once said: “If man cannot provide for his own family, how can he provide for the entire family of the Church?”

What conditions will have to occur in the Vatican in order to have fertile soil to be able to bring more individual freedom and personal autonomy for the clergy?

All things considered, the clergy already has individual freedom but it is surely desirable to have a renewal of the institution. The basis to start the restructuring would be an openness of dialogue between priests and laics and more engagement for both young priests and the youth in general, gaining a major representation in the various pontifical commissions. I do not really know what the favorable conditions to build a new policy in Vatican could concretely be but as a matter of fact, Pope Francis already started to open new roads, so I hope it will be followed by his successor when the time will come.

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