Is This Video of an Italian Church That Lost Its Congregants to COVID-19?

A Kenyan tweep shared the video below on June 15, 2020, allegedly showing a pastor in Italy walking into his church only to realize that his congregants succumbed to COVID-19 infection. The video shows pictures of the deceased congregants placed on the church pews.

The video was also on shared on YouTube with a similar claim on the same day:

Background

The COVID-19 numbers in Italy currently stand at 236, 989 confirmed cases, 34,345 deaths and 176,370 recoveries (see here the latest numbers).

On May 18, Italian Churches re-opened following a May 7 deal between the Italian bishops’ conference and the government, allowing public Mass to be conducted, though under a slew of conditions.

Verification

A separation of the keyframes using video verification tool, InVID, followed by a Google reverse image search of one of the frames, revealed that the video in question was first posted on April 12, 2020, on the Facebook page of a church called Salem Baptist Church. It was during an online Easter service in the town of Mississipi in the United States.

The Facebook caption reads:

To our Salem family: we want to share with you the video of us surprising Bro Larry with all your pictures for the Easter service. It was such a special, moving time. You can tell by this video how much he loves you all.

This video is exclusively managed by T&T Creative Media. For licensing / permission to use please contact licensing@tt-creative.com

The said T&T Creative Media also published the video on YouTube on April 26 2020, giving more detail on the video’s context. The caption reads:

A beloved reverend was brought to tears when his absent congregation surprised him by thoughtfully leaving photos of themselves on their seats. With mass gatherings cancelled in the state of Mississippi, Reverend Larry Duncan was facing the sad prospect of not having anyone at his weekend service, at Salem Baptist Church, in Lake. But as he walked into the church, on April 11, Larry was met with a beautiful sight. In front of him he found 98 different photographs each depicting the face of a regular attendee. Looking out onto the sea of faces – all in their usual seats – made Larry, 71, well up as he walked between the aisles checking out the faces of his beloved congregation. The idea for the big surprise came from a churchgoer, Amy Clay, who reached out to Larry’s daughter, Natalie Emmons, 41. Natalie made a few phone calls to get the word out and after a drop-off location had been selected for the photos to be left for the church in a safe manner. Natalie and her family spent a day lining up the images for her dad. Since the video was shared on the church’s Facebook page, it has received a viral response of millions of views.

The church also shared the video on its YouTube page and the photo below from that day on their Facebook page, thanking their congregants for the gesture:

Based on the above findings, the claim is false because the service in question did not happen in Italy and the photos on the pews are not of congregants who died of COVID-19. However, a similar Easter service was reported to have happened in Italy on the same day.

A Google search for the keywords ‘photos on church pews during COVID-19’ leads to this NBC News report dated April 12, 2020, showing a video from a service held by one Father Corbari, in the northern Italian town of Robbiano.

The explanation for the service is given as follows in the report:

Father Corbari’s church in the northern Italian town of Robbiano has lain empty since the government imposed a lockdown to stop the spread of the coronavirus. But he’s determined to maintain a connection with his parishioners and has pasted photos of each of them to the empty pews. Although families will remain separated this Easter, Father Corbari says the season offers another hope.

CNN also reported on the Italian church service, sharing a picture that is credited to Father Giuseppe Corbari as seen in the screenshot below:

Note that the photos are also not of dead congregants but parishioners who couldn’t attend mass due to COVID-19 restrictions.

Further searches show that similar Easter services were witnessed in an empty church of North Manila in the Philippines, at Matthews Methodist Church in the US and at the Great Point Fellowship in Medford, a city in Southern Oregon.

Verdict

The video being shared online is out of context, thereby making the claim FALSE.

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