Health minister promises aid to Italian priest’s hometown

TAIPEI (CNA) — Minister of Health and Welfare Chen Shih-chung (陳時中) promised on Sunday to help fight the COVID-19 pandemic on the Italian island of Sicily, the home of an Italian priest who has lived in Taiwan for two decades.

The request was raised by a reporter during the daily Central Epidemic Command Center (CECC) press briefing on Sunday, who asked Chen if Taiwan could lend a helping hand to Father Calogero Orifiamma and the people of Sicily.

The island authorities are short of medical necessities in their fight against COVID-19 and lack even basic supplies such as surgical face masks, the reporter told Chen.

Although the parishioners at Orifiamma’s church have been trying to help, they cannot send too many masks to the island due to Taiwan’s current restrictions, and the priest was too embarrassed to host a fundraiser because another Italian priest had already done so, the reporter said.

The reporter was referring to Father Giuseppe Didone, who raised nearly NT$150 million (US$4.96 million) in April to help hospitals in Italy.

In response, Chen said that “we will definitely extend the hand of friendship,” but did not elaborate further.

Orifiamma, who currently serves in a church in southern Pingtung County’s Donggang Township, told CNA that he was extremely happy to hear that Taiwan is willing to help his home island combat the pandemic.

Although Sicily is not the hardest-hit region in Italy, people still cannot go to school or work, he said, adding that when he tried to send surgical masks, they were stolen in Italy.

Knowing that the Taiwan government is willing to help is his “best birthday gift,” said Orifiamma, who celebrated his birthday the previous day.

Orifiamma came to Taiwan 20 years ago and speaks fluent Mandarin. He has previously served in Pingtung’s Laiyi and Chunri townships, both of which are communities of the indigenous Paiwan people.

To date, Italy has reported over 229,000 cases of COVID-19, with more than 32,700 deaths, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.