Before the coronavirus pandemic, the newspaper 'L'Eco di Bergamo' was little known to anyone except in the town of Bergamo itself, 40km north of Milan.
As Covid-19 spread in northern Italy, foreign correspondents based in the country sought new ways to tell the story and get across the unmitigated devastation of the loss of life. Like most journalists on a fresh beat, they turned to the local newspaper 'L'Eco di Bergamo'. One of the first things they noticed was the sheer volume of obituaries being carried.
A video soon went viral in which a reader decided to compare the paper's recent obituary pages to those at the outbreak's onset. First, the narrator holds up a copy of the February 9 edition, published when the country had confirmed only three cases. The obituaries section takes up one and a half pages.
We then see a copy dated March 13, by which point the number of confirmed infections had risen to more than 17,600 and 1,266 people had lost their lives. A month later the number of obituaries takes up 10 full pages.
The video has been shared online millions of times and serves as a powerful rebuke to those who think the world is over-reacting. For the editor of 'L'Eco', Alberto Ceresoli, the obituaries are his bread and butter. He received an unexpected phone call on Tuesday evening to thank his team for all they are doing to chronicle the deaths.
The call came in the evening, a few minutes after 6.30pm from an unknown number, he told the paper the following morning. He was inclined not to answer, as he usually ignores unknown numbers, but he relented on this occasion. So he answers. "It's the Pope," says the voice on the other end of the phone. The editor was understandably incredulous, prompting Francis to reply: "Yes, yes, I am the Pope. Every time I call someone on the phone, they all think it's a joke, but it really is me".
Mr Ceresoli describes the call as a "caress" from the Pope for the suffering people of Bergamo and Francis stayed on the line for a long time.
It is typical of the kind of personal touch Francis sees as the essence of good leadership. In a world crying out for authentic leadership, the Pope is a beacon. Few could have remained unmoved by his serene gestures over Easter. Whether ascending the steps of St Peter's in the rain to pray for a world with a broken heart, or giving his benediction to millions watching around the world from an empty basilica, the Pope is offering both hope and consolation at a desperate time.
Believers and non-believers see in Francis a man who wants to accompany people at a time of suffering and reassure them better times are ahead. In that sense, he has taken on the role of parish priest of the world, which is why the editor's description of his call as a caress is so apt.
Contrast Francis's approach with the noisy and ostentatious scenes of chaos we see from the White House every evening. Or the marathon teleconference of European leaders apparently unable to give an inch to aid countries such as Italy and Spain bearing the brunt of this pestilence.
But before you think what the Pope is providing is merely a balm, think of his courageous words to EU leaders on Easter Sunday, when he excoriated them for their lack of solidarity.
Turning to the not too distant past, the Pontiff reminded people that "after World War II, this beloved continent was able to rise again, thanks to a concrete spirit of solidarity that enabled it to overcome the rivalries of the past. It is more urgent than ever, especially in the present circumstances, that these rivalries do not regain force, but that all recognise themselves as part of a single family and support one another".
He concluded with a warning: "Let us not lose the opportunity to give further proof of solidarity, also by turning to innovative solutions. The only alternative is the selfishness of particular interests and the temptation of a return to the past, at the risk of severely damaging the peaceful coexistence and development of future generations."
Millions of people, regardless of faith, have been moved by images of Pope Francis at a time when leadership is in short supply and the future is uncertain. Donald Trump ridiculously predicted this crisis could be over in the US in time for Easter and churches could be packed again. Pope Francis wisely knew empty churches speak more powerfully to what is going on and the continued suspension of public events saves lives. As European leaders struggle to come to terms with what a union really means in tough times and Mr Trump spends his days verbally wrestling with journalists, we will do well to look to an icon like Pope Francis.
The image of a solitary elderly man in white, praying, blessing and leading, will linger as an image of this pandemic long after restrictions have been lifted.