I grew up in the church. My mother and father were Southern Baptist missionaries in a small Portuguese colony in Southeast Asia called Macao. When the Portuguese arrived in the 16th century, they brought Catholicism with them. Many years later, refugees from Vietnam seeking haven from their war-torn country and religious persecution would end up in camps that were mostly tended by Catholic priests and nuns. My mother, a nurse, went to the camps to give refugees health care, often taking my brothers and sisters and me along.

All of this is to say that because of those early memories, and although I don’t go to church anymore, I have some understanding of how important the church can be to people’s daily lives. This is searingly apparent in photographer Roland Reinstadler’s project, “The Circle of Life.”

Reinstadler’s project follows two priests, Father Christian and Father Markus, as they tend to the faithful in the villages of the Italian Alps, where faith remains strong even, and maybe especially, in the face of the coronavirus pandemic.

Reinstadler told In Sight more about the project, saying:

“In the villages of the Italian Alps, faith is still a central element of life and is shaped by the contact between priests and believers. But if the corona pandemic breaks in like a storm in this world shaped by religious traditions, through which lockdown breaks all contact and the church stands still, how is it possible for priests to give consolation and hope when contact is almost impossible?
In St. Leonhard in Passeier, a picturesque small mountain village in South Tyrol in the Italian Alps, the church found its own way. At the beginning of the lockdown, Father Christian, 48, and Father Markus, 40, were still allowed to visit the old and sick, giving them comfort. But after more than 10 deaths from the coronavirus in the village’s retirement home within a short period of time, they were forbidden from having contact with anyone.
Facebook became the only possibility for the priests to stay in touch with the parishioners. Since the lockdown on March 11, the virus has killed more than 100 priests across Italy. After the Italian government loosened the coronavirus rules on May 18, after more than two months of lockdown, the pastors were allowed to celebrate Holy Mass and visit old and sick people, wearing masks and under strict conditions.
The priests are particularly interested in holding funerals to allow their relatives to say goodbye while at the same time maintaining the old rituals and customs of the area. They are still forbidden to help the sick and frail believers in the retirement home. Even at the end of August, more than five months after the lockdown by the Italian government, the pastors cannot visit them because of the many deaths in the spring.
The Church accompanies people not only in suffering, but also on happy occasions such as the birth and the baptism of a newborn baby. In addition to the death and suffering of the past few months, it is a great relief for the pastors to accompany a new life with their blessing.
The coronavirus has caused a lot of suffering all over the world, but neither this virus, nor wars or other disasters will be able to stop the circle of life.”

You can see more of Reinstadler’s work here.

In Sight is The Washington Post’s photography blog for visual narrative. This platform showcases compelling and diverse imagery from staff members and freelance photographers, news agencies and archives. If you are interested in submitting a story to In Sight, please complete this form.

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