View of St. Leonhard in Passeier, a village with about 3,500 inhabitants in South Tyrol, in the Italian Alps. (Roland Reinstadler)

Father Christian, 48, looks out the window of his living room in the rectory. After the many coronavirus deaths in his parish, the pastor is badly hit. To be confronted with death every week is very difficult for him and makes him feel helpless. (Roland Reinstadler)

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.

Michaela, 30, and Andreas, 25, together with their daughter Maria, who is a few months old, during a baptismal talk with Father Markus. (Roland Reinstadler)

Father Markus, 40, dries the baptized child Maria in front of her parents Andreas, 25, and Michaela, 30, her godfather Markus, 21, and her brother Jakob, 10. (Roland Reinstadler)

In the first phase of the lockdown, Father Christian, 48, and Father Markus, 40, tried to get in touch with the parish on Facebook in front of empty benches. (Roland Reinstadler)

At a funeral, clergy gather to accompany the deceased on his final journey. (Roland Reinstadler)

In the sacristy, the vestments for the priests to wear at a funeral hang ready. (Roland Reinstadler)

Father Christian, 48, visits Josef Hofer, 94. The man, who has been bedridden for over a year, is severely affected by life. His deep faith and the presence of the pastor give him courage, comfort and security, and awaken in him the hope of an afterlife. (Roland Reinstadler)

Josef Hofer, 94, uses a chair as an altar. An old cross from his grandparents, a rosary, a glass of consecrated water and the hearing aids are close at hand next to the bed. (Roland Reinstadler)

Father Christian, 48, at a Holy Communion for the sick with a believer. For Notburga Walzl, 89, as for many other elderly people in the area, the prayer and the receiving of the Holy Sacrament by the pastor are the most important events of the month. (Roland Reinstadler)

As a thank you for his house visit, Father Christian receives eggs and butter as a gift. (Roland Reinstadler)

Father Markus, 40, is practicing the hymns with the organist Gernot Hofer. (Roland Reinstadler)

A pastor, with a rosary in hand, prays for the deceased, whose coffin is in the church for the funeral. (Roland Reinstadler)

Pallbearers escort the deceased to his final resting place in the cemetery. (Roland Reinstadler)

The social distancing during the second phase of the lockdown in the parish church of St. Leonhard in Passeier. (Roland Reinstadler)

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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