Italian bishops urge prayers for end of drought

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ROME – As Italy continues to suffer through a prolonged and sweltering heat wave, which has seen temperatures top out at record highs, bishops are praying for an end to the drought that is crippling farmers and agricultural workers throughout the country.

On July 4, Italy’s Council of Ministers approved a state of emergency for five regions: Veneto, Lombardy, Piedmont, Emilia Romagna, and Friuli Venezia Giulia.

Several other regions, including Le Marche, Umbria, and the Lazio region – where Rome is located – have also requested the state of emergency, and regional authorities throughout the country are recommending that rations be imposed.

The Italian government has issued guidelines for water usage, such as taking showers over baths and reusing boiled water, so as to prevent waste until the arrival of rain.

With the declaration of the state of emergency, the government has approved 36.5 million euros in spending to alleviate the five regions most affected.

The state of emergency will remain in force until Dec. 31, and, according to the Council of Ministers, is “aimed at facing the current situation with extraordinary means and powers, with rescue and assistance interventions for the population concerned, and at restoring the functionality of public services and strategic network infrastructure.”

According to information provided by leading Italian agricultural company Coldiretti, there are roughly 27,000 farms located in the five regions affected by the state of emergency that have been affected by the drought.

“A Made-in-Italy agri-food capital risks disappearing under the blows of drought,” Coldiretti said in a communique, saying the damage done by the drought has already exceeded three billion euros.

Coldiretti is working with the National Association of Reclamation to build basins that will collect roughly half of any rainfall that might come. The Confederation of Farmers has also weighed in, and has called for investment in “long-term solutions to get out of the emergency logic.”

An increase in wildfires and the avalanche Sunday that killed at least seven people and left over a dozen missing in northern Italy have been blamed on the heat wave, making the need for rain all the more desperate.

In response to the crisis, bishops throughout the country are turning to prayer, and have asked clergy in their respective dioceses to add the end of the drought as an intention during Sunday Masses.

On July 3, churches throughout the southern region of Molise invoked God for rain.

In an official communique, Molise’s four bishops expressed the church’s closeness “to all farmers in this time of great drought that has hit the crops, bringing to its knees a leading sector of the regional economy.”

The decision to pray for an end to the drought in every Sunday Mass in every parish in the region, they said, is “a sign of entrustment to God, in the light of faith, to confidently manifest and share a need with the Eternal Father and to open up to hope and his intercession so that a refreshing rain may soon arrive in the fields, giving serenity and trust to all those who are engaged daily in toil.”

Archbishop Renato Boccardo of Spoleto-Norcia has also asked priests in his diocese to use a special collect during the opening rite of all Masses July 9, praying that God would “give us the rain we need so that, helped by the goods that sustain the present life, we tend with greater trust to the eternal ones.”

The archbishop of Florence, Cardinal Giuseppe Betori, has sent a letter to priests in his area inviting them to dedicate their Masses, using the same prayer, for an end to the drought.

Betori, in his letter, recalled a “prayer for rain” composed by Pope Paul VI during a drought in July 1946, saying, “we believers in divine providence and in the efficacy of prayer, will we not be able, indeed will we not perhaps have to have recourse to that God, our Father, who also dominates the inexorable laws of nature, so that he may resolve to an advantage, and soon, of humanity, and of the animals themselves, this misfortune?”

“He can; and perhaps he awaits the humility and faith of our filial invocation to restore balance to the seasons, fertility to the earth, fluidity to rivers, and refreshment to the thirst of the living,” he said.

Bishop Francesco Lambiasi of Rimini has also responded to requests from the faithful asking that Sunday Masses be offered for an end to the drought.

Masses throughout the diocese are now being offered “for this land of ours, which has been thirsty for water for many months, and for our entire Italian nation, so that the rain falls abundantly to fertilize the countryside and that families obtain the fruits of their labor,” Lambiasi said in a statement.

Archbishop Mario Delpini of Milan has also joined the chorus of those imploring an end to the drought. He recently organized the recitation of a special rosary in three of the most agricultural areas of the archdiocese as a sign of closeness “to those who owe their work to water.”

In the Diocese of Adria-Rovigo, in the northern region of Veneto, Bishop Pierantonio Pavanello asked that all Sunday Masses last week include a prayer intention for an end to the drought.

Archbishop Giancarlo Perego of Ferrara-Comacchio, in Emilia Romagna, has also asked all priests in his diocese to recite a special prayer for rain at the end of every Sunday Mass.

In a diocesan communique, Perego said, “it is the blessing prayer that starts from the awareness of how the gift of everything related to human life comes from God.”

“The blessing of God who is the creator of everything, at this moment becomes the request for a particular gift, that of water, for the people who work and live in this territory,” he said, insisting that prayer does not mean “stopping to desire,” but it also marks “a commitment which, with regard to the environment, is very strong in the Italian Church at this moment.”

“At the same time, prayer is a source of responsibility so that the common home is not marked and destroyed by human selfishness,” he said, adding, “We cannot forget that the drought is also due to the little effort in the care of the water network, in the distribution of water and as regards the local territory to greater collaboration between all its parts, both regarding the Delta area and the agricultural activity.”

Beyond individual dioceses, much is also being done at the local parish level.

In Pieve del Cairo, in the northern region of Lombardy, a procession was recently held by the local pastor, which was also attended by the city mayor, in which a wooden crucifix from the 1700s, historically invoked in times of drought, was carried through the streets.

According to Avvenire, the official newspaper of the Italian bishops, the cross has only been carried in procession like this five times in the past 200 years, making the decision to do so now significant.

Youth ministries in the area have also announced that all games and activities involving water have been prohibited for the summer.

Follow Elise Ann Allen on Twitter: @eliseannallen

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