Catholic clerics are being kept under quarantine at the Vatican before being elevated to cardinals.
The Vatican’s Santa Marta hotel was built to sequester cardinals during papal elections but is now providing quarantine to the soon-to-be cardinals.
They are confined to their rooms on Vatican orders and getting meals delivered to their doors.
The 10-day quarantines, with Covid-19 tests administered at the start and finish, are just one example of how Saturday’s ceremony to elevate new cardinals is like nothing the Holy See has ever seen.
“They told me it would be like this but I didn’t think it would be so strict!” said Cardinal-designate Felipe Arizmendi Esquivel, the retired archbishop of Chiapas, Mexico.
During a Zoom call from his hotel room, the cleric said he had thought there might be some exceptions to the lockdown for new cardinals.
“No! Here, it doesn’t matter if you’re a cardinal or a pope. The virus doesn’t respect anyone,” he said.
Pope Francis on Saturday will elevate 13 clerics to the College of Cardinals, the elite group of red-robed churchmen whose primary task is to elect a new pope.
It is the seventh time Francis has named a new batch of cardinals since his election in 2013, and his imprint is increasingly shifting the balance of power away from Europe and toward the developing world.
The Vatican has said two new cardinals will not make it to Rome for the ceremony, known as a consistory, because of Covid-19 and travel concerns: The Vatican’s ambassador to Brunei, Cardinal-designate Cornelius Sim, and the archbishop of Capiz, Philippines, Cardinal-designate Jose Advincula.
The Vatican is arranging for them, and any of the cardinals who might not make it, to participate in the ceremony remotely from their homes.
They will get their three-pointed “biretta” hats from a Vatican ambassador or another envoy.
For those who are participating in person, the public health crisis has posed an unusual set of challenges.
Italy, where the pandemic erupted in late February, is currently in the throes of a second wave.
The Vatican itself has returned to a modified lockdown in recent weeks, with the Vatican Museums closed and a dozen Swiss Guards testing positive.
Francis, 83, has been criticised for his rather lax mask usage, but he has abided by social distancing measures to a degree.
He too lives at Santa Marta, where there has been at least one positive case reported in recent months.
Among the new voting age cardinals is the first African-American, Cardinal-designate Wilton Gregory, archbishop of Washington, DC.
He too is concluding his quarantine in the Santa Marta hotel, where he said his meals are left on a tray outside his door.
He said that, while he was unable to go out, at least his new red cassock was delivered from Rome’s famous clerical haberdasher, Gammarelli.
In a Zoom call, he explained that a US-based ecclesiastical tailor took his measurements while he was still in Washington and sent them to Gammarelli, which then made the robes to order and sent them to Santa Marta.
“I have them now. They fit!” he said.
Fashion aside, the archbishop said he was humbled by Francis’ decision to make him a cardinal and said he would return to a United States still in the throes of the pandemic with hope that vaccines against the virus will soon work.
“I hope we can use them effectively to protect people and … once this pandemic is brought under control, to face the future with hope,” he said.