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Italian priest dies of coronavirus after giving up his ventilator to help others

The global coronavirus pandemic is forcing doctors and nurses to make agonizing decisions of who lives and who dies. It is the toughest and most heartbreaking decision a person could ever have to make.

Infected with COVID-19, that is exactly the decision that faced 72-year-old Italian priest Don Giuseppe Berardelli. And in the highest of priestly callings, Berardelli chose to put others' lives before his own by giving up his ventilator to save the life of a younger person. He made that ultimate sacrifice on March 15.

Now, news of his sacrifice has gone viral on Twitter.

Don Giuseppe Berardelli, a priest for 47 years, was serving as the Archpriest of Casnigo in the Diocese of Bergamo in Northern Italy, one of the areas hardest hit by the coronavirus pandemic. Berardelli had been suffering from a respiratory condition for some time, so his parish had previously purchased the breathing apparatus to help him cope. 

Clara Poli, the mayor of the town of Fiorano, where Don Giuseppe was a longtime pastor, spoke about Berardelli's character to the Italian publication FarodiRoma: "A great person… he was always cheerful and full of enthusiasm, he gave peace and joy to our communities," said Poli, "He was a priest who listened to everyone, he knew how to listen, whoever turned to him knew that he could count on his help."

One Twitter user in Chicago said Berardelli had served as a father figure to her cousins in Italy after their own father died. "What a small world. My extended family in Italy were very close with him," she wrote. "He was a father figure to my cousins after they lost their father very young. He was a very good man & is being mourned very hard by my family. They also lost their patriarch 3 days later. Poor lovely man."

Commenting on Berardelli's selfless act, a health care worker in a Casnigo retirement home told FarodiRoma, "I am deeply moved by the fact that the archpriest of Casnigo, Don Giuseppe Berardelli — to whom the parish community had bought a respirator — renounced his will to assign it to someone younger than him."

James Martin, an American priest and editor-at-large for America magazine, a Jesuit review of faith and culture, called Berardelli a "Martyr of Charity." And he cited a Bible verse, John 15:13, which says, "Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one's life for one's friends."

Don Giuseppe Berardelli passed away in a hospital in Lovere, Bergamo. As with most victims of this pandemic, there was no in-person funeral, but local reports say the people of Caserta, Italy, applauded him from their balconies at noon on Monday, March 16.

BBC News reports that at least 50 priests have died of the coronavirus in Italy to date. Italy has seen more deaths from the virus than anywhere else in the world, with at least 6,077 fatalities among the country's 63,900 confirmed cases, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins.

Editor's note: This story's author, Jeff Berardelli, has no known relation to Don Guiseppe Berardelli.

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