Page last updated at 22:16 GMT, Wednesday, 11 November 2009

Hi-tech holy water calms flu fear


There is an increasing demand for the holy water dispensers

Catholic churches in Italy are installing automatic holy water dispensers to help reduce the risk of spreading swine flu.

The outbreak of the H1N1 virus has led many churches to suspend the tradition of having holy water in open fonts into which people dip their hands.

The new machine works like an automatic soap dispenser, squirting water when a hand is passed under the tap.

Inventor Luciano Marabese says he is being inundated with enquiries.

About 30 people have died in Italy after catching swine flu.

Father Pierre Angelo Mota, from Capriano Briosco, north of Milan, said squirtable holy water had surprised some of his parishoners at first.

"It has been a bit of a novelty," he said.

"People initially were a bit shocked by this technological innovation but then they welcomed it with great enthusiasm and joy. The members of this parish have got used to it," he added.

Churchgoer Marta Caimmi agreed.

"It's great," she said. "Thanks to this we are not worried about catching swine flu. It is the right thing for the times."

'Global interest'

The design of the dispenser is similar to a traditional water font, but with an infra-red light that reads the presence of a hand and squirts holy water onto the person's fingers.

Mr Marabese says he is receiving hundreds of emails from all over the world requesting information about the product.

"Some people had stopped dipping their hand into the holy water font as they were afraid of infections," he told Reuters.

"Some people even pretended to touch the water but they just touched the marble edge of the font. I think that it is a pity to lose our traditions."

Milan's cathedral was among the places of worship to officially suspend the use of communal water fonts.

"After the news that some churches - like Milan's cathedral - are suspending the use of holy water fonts... demands for my invention rose to the stars," added Mr Marabese.

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