Pope Francis visits earthquake-hit towns of central Italy
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,’ Radio Vatican reports.
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, whilst on his way to nearby Accumoli and Arquata del Tronto to bring his message of hope and solidarity to them as well.