Sicily Praying That Lava Takes a Turn for the Best

Mount Etna Active Again

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NICOLOSI, Sicily, JULY 23, 2001 ( Residents of a village set on the slopes of Mount Etna today were continuing to pray for help as lava edged ever closer.

The magma from the mountain, Europe´s highest and most active volcano, was within 2.5 miles of the first houses of the village of Nicolosi, a community of about 5,000 people. Towns in the area are in a state of emergency.

As of Sunday, the lava had moved around 1.2 miles in the past four days, but had slowed in the last 48 hours and was heading for a shallow basin above Nicolosi which may pool and slow its flow.

«We´re praying to God because at this stage He´s the only one who can stop the lava,» an elderly woman said Sunday as she made her way into a small Catholic church.

On Friday, Archbishop Luigi Bommarito of Catania went up to Nicolosi and spent some time in prayer with two parish priests and some residents, to implore God´s protection. «It is a gesture of hope,» the archbishop said, who interrupted his vacation near Palermo to be with the people of Etna.

«We have the power of prayer and we want to pray every time we are afraid; in this case, we must pray that the flow of lava will stop,» he added.

Archbishop Bommarito met with the mayor of Nicolosi, civil protection employees, forces of order, and volunteers, and requested them to spare no efforts in their endeavors to save the highway and the homes threatened by the volcano, whose force is unabated.

Nicolosi, halfway up the southern slopes of the 11,000-foot mountain, has been swamped by lava before. Legend has it that in 1886 the local archbishop managed to divert the red-hot wave by holding up a statue of St. Anthony. On Sunday, a procession was held in honor of the area´s patron.

Earlier, security forces shut down Catania international airport, in the shadow of Etna on the eastern edge of Sicily, to let firefighters sweep a thick layer of volcanic ash off the runway.

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