Pope Francis visited the earthquake-hit towns of central Italy in a surprise journey on Tuesday morning, praying with the residents of Amatrice on the feast day of his namesake, St. Francis, telling them to ‘move forward’ together for ‘there is always a future’.
The Holy Father arrived by car with the Bishop of Rieti, Domenico Pompili, in Amatrice on Tuesday morning at 9:10 a.m. to visit those people affected by the earthquake of 24 August.
His first visit was to the newly constructed ‘Capranica’ school, where the Pope met with elementary and middle-school aged children, who gave him several of their handmade drawings.
Pope Francis hugged them one-by-one and listened to their stories of the deadly earthquake in Amatrice where 231 of the total 297 people died.
During his visit, Pope Francis told the residents of Amatrice, “I thought long and hard in the first days of these many pains that my visit, perhaps, would be more of a hindrance than a help, a greeting. I didn’t want to be a bother so I let a little time pass, so that some things could be resolved, like the school. But from the first moment, I felt that I needed to come to you! Simply to express my closeness to you, nothing more. And I pray, pray for you! Solidarity and prayer: this is my offering to you. May the Lord bless you all; may Our Lady watch over you in this moment of sadness, pain, and trial.”
After blessing them, he said, “Let’s move forward; there is always a future. There are many loved ones who have left us, who fell here under the rubble. Let us pray to Our Lady for them; let us do it together. Always look ahead. Courage, and help each other. One walks better together, alone we go nowhere. Forward! Thank you.”
The Holy Father then went to the heavily damaged centre of Amatrice accompanied by the Mayor Sergio Pirozzi. There he paused for several minutes to pray.
A press release by the Holy See Press Office said, “Already on Sunday, during his inflight press conference on the flight from Baku to Rome, Pope Francis had said he would make this visit ‘privately, alone, as a priest, as a bishop, as Pope. But alone. This is how I want to do it. And I would like to be close to the people.’”
Nearly 4,000 people are living in tents near Amatrice after their homes were destroyed in the 6.0-magnitude earthquake.
Afterwards, the Pope stopped to have lunch with around 60 elderly people living in the ‘St. Raphael Assisted Living Facility’ in Rieti. In the afternoon, Pope Francis visited the headquarters of the Fire Station at Cittareale that serves as a base camp for the entire area affected by the earthquake.
His next stop was in Accumoli, one of the towns that suffered the worst destruction, where he greeted a number of people and prayed in front of the ruins of the church of St Francis destroyed by the quake. From Accumoli, the Pope then travelled to the village of Pescara del Tronto where he stopped three times along the street to greet groups of people.
His penultimate stop was the nearby village of Arquata del Tronto where he greeted and delivered a brief address to more than 100 people and prayed the Hail Mary with them. During his stop there he also visited a makeshift school set up for children in the tent city.
In his brief remarks the Pope told the residents he wanted “to be close during this time and tell you that I carry you in my heart and know about about your suffering and your anguish.” I know also, he continued, “about your loved ones who died and I am with you and for this reason I wanted to be here today….. Take courage and always move forward. Times change and it’s possible to move ahead. I am close to you, I am with you.”
Pope Francis’ final stop during his tour of the region was San Pellegrino di Norcia and here once again he prayed in front of a heavily damaged church. In brief remarks to resident, the Holy Father assured them that he was close to them during “this time of sadness” and was praying for them to have the strength to go forward.
Photos: the New York Times