holy-water-1 (Photos: Anti-swine flu holy water dispenser, 10 Nov 2009/Stefano Rellandini)

An Italian inventor has combined faith and ingenuity to come up with a way to keep church traditions alive for the faithful without the fear of contracting swine flu — an electronic holy water dispenser. The terracotta dispenser, used in the northern town of Fornaci di Briosco, functions like an automatic soap dispenser in public washrooms — a churchgoer waves his or her hand under a sensor and the machine spurts out holy water.

“It has been a bit of a novelty. 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,” said Father Pierangelo Motta.

Catholics entering and leaving churches usually dip their hands into fonts full of holy water — which has been blessed by a priest — and make the sign of the cross. But fear of contracting the H1N1 virus has led many in Italy — where some 15 people have died of swine flu — not to dip their hands in the communal water font.

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