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Signs of hope in the darkness

09 April 2020

A Milanese nun finds la Speranza in the Italians’ response to the Covid-19 pandemic


People on balconies hold lights during a flash mob in Turin last month

People on balconies hold lights during a flash mob in Turin last month

LA SPERANZA in Italy today is a pro­vocative, unpolluted blue sky and the sun laughing as it shines ob­­stina­tely on deserted streets and infil­trates households that are learn­ing afresh how to become families.

La Speranza is hundreds of anony­mous Post-it notes on shut­tered shopfronts, encourage­ments to small traders whose outlook is grim: first in Bergamo and then spiralling virally, sending hope to Lombardy and all Italy — “Tutto andra bene” — calling to mind the words of Jesus to Julian of Norwich: “All shall be well and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well.”

La Speranza is life grown stronger as spring advances indomitably, ban­ishing mourning and fear as it turns trees green and makes birds sing.

La Speranza is all those perfect teachers who, in the space of a few days, succeed in improvising school reinvented, courageously creating on­­­­­line lessons and virtual feedback as they cook lunch, with a kid at each foot.

La Speranza is all those young people who, after a few days of euphoria at unexpected holidays, transformed themselves into respon­sible individuals who understood how to be reasonable and civil when it was needed, and, without losing either creativity or their sense of humour, instigated flash mob for all at 6 p.m. — a flash mob with a dif­ference, where everyone is at their window to hear the Italian national anthem or a pop song that they sing in unison. Because serious situations draw us together.


LA SPERANZA is all the in­geni­ous and creative parents who invent new family games and initiate mobile-free moments that screens cannot steal.

La Speranza — after an initial explosion of basic survival instincts (frenetic buying at the supermarket, rush for masks and sanitisers, night exodus southward) — was students who, in all the mayhem, kept calm, level-headed, and polite, having the courage to stay in Milan, far from their families, for the safety of their own, more vulnerable regions, such as Calabria and Sicily; but, above all, who resisted the primal temptation to wag angry or envious fingers at those who could not bear a month of isolation far from their family, and who ran.

La Speranza is that policeman who, on encountering a nurse re­­turn­­ing to the foray to resume her duties during car-certification checks, bowed his head and uttered: “All re­­spect to you.”

And la Speranza, of course, is, above all, those green-suited doctors and devoted health personnel who work themselves to exhaustion in hospitals that are full to overflowing, and fight on, regardless. They are all our “angels of the nation”.

But la Speranza is also life that blossoms in the middle of this tor­ment, like my little sister who, shipwrecked from the Stock Ex­­change, delivered baby Noe, a new life — while others, more vulnerable, struggle to keep theirs, near by.

Above all, la Speranza is rich and productive European countries that seemed so flippantly ready to dis­pose of their elderly, cynically ac­­cepting the concept of euthanasia for those whose health was failing, and, lo and behold, they are the very countries that have morphed into defenders of the most fragile, least productive, cost-ineffective incum­bents of so­ci­­ety, whose pensions are problematic.

Behold, too, our economy brought to its knees at the bedside of these old and vulnerable: a whole country ground to a halt. For them. . .


THIS Lent, we have a brand-new route map: we are crossing the de­sert, praying and rediscovering a hunger for communion — living as thousands of other Christians all over the world. We marvel with new eyes because our routine is broken; as we try to navigate in thick fog, we learn once more to let go and trust. We give ourselves over to provi­dence.

At the same time, we are learning to stand still. It has taken a micro­scopic virus, pathetic and invisible as it laughs in our faces, to halt our crazy scurrying.

The bottom-line hope of Easter, the victory of life at the end of this long Lent, will consist of joyful hugs and affection and a craving for fellowship at the end of a long fast.

Then we will say, as St Francis did: “Blessed are you, O Lord, for Brother Coronavirus who has taught us to be humble once again and to value life and fellowship.”

Take heart! I have overcome the world. (John 16.33)


The writer is an anonymous religious in Milan. Translated by Bobbie Ann Cole.

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