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Father Stanislao Esposito, native of Italy, keeps in close contact with mother, family as coronavirus grinds everyday life to a halt

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A worker sprays disinfectant to combat the coronavirus in the Basilica of San Domenico Maggiore in Naples, Italy, March 6, 2020. The suspension of public Masses in Italy is a painful yet necessary measure to protect people's health, the country's bishops said in a March 8 statement. (CNS photo/Fotogramma/IPA/ABACAPRESS.COMNo via Reuters)

So many people are keeping a close watch on the impact of coronavirus in Italy and elsewhere, but few are paying closer attention than Father Stanislao Esposito.

Father Stanislao Esposito

The pastor of St. John the Baptist-Holy Angels parish in Newark was born in Naples and counts his mother, Teresa, 83, two sisters and a brother among family members who currently live in his native country. Italy has been hard hit by the novel coronavirus, and the Italian conference of bishops has suspended all public Masses until at least April 3, following orders from the government to restrict public gatherings.

Father Esposito has stayed in touch with his family and followed the goings-on through online news accounts and social media.

“They are really stressed out, the whole town is,” Father Esposito said of his family in a recent interview. He said his family members are keeping a close eye on his mother as the elderly are most vulnerable, but thus far no one in his family has become ill.

The health scare is worrisome enough. Also being told they cannot go to public Mass has some people unhappy even though most parishes are streaming private Mass online.

“People didn’t react very nicely at the beginning,” he said. “They wanted to go to Mass. The church is following the orders of the government. The church agreed to do whatever needed to be done.”

Everyday life is strained, Father Esposito said. People are allowed to enter pharmacies and grocery stores only in small numbers, businesses are suffering, especially those near to St. Peter’s Square and there are to be no public gatherings. All types of reactions came as a result of restrictions.

“Even people who don’t usually go to church wanted to go because they were being told not to.”

The April 3 restriction date seems random, but the local priest says he believes officials want to do what they can and then reassess.

“The thinking is ‘If we all stay home and avoid contact with each other, we will be able to contain it.’ Then they will have to re-evaluate.”

Father Esposito said he has a friend in quarantine in Italy who had concelebrated with another priest who later tested positive. He said his mother is basically staying at home through the crisis, mindful that elderly are among the most vulnerable. He said large segments of Italy’s population live in apartments and people are looking out for one another. Younger people are helping with shopping and retrieving supplies for their older neighbors.

But the stress on residents is evident.

“It’s not pleasant on so many levels,” he said.

The longtime pastor of St. Mary, Star of the Sea parish in Ocean City, Md., Father Esposito was appointed to the Newark parish in the Diocese of Wilmington last year. He said he’d been hoping to visit his family at some point this year. Getting in and out of Italy is not so simple in the time of coronavirus. He’s hoping for an ease in restrictions that will enable him to visit.