Pope Sends Vatican Firemen for Earthquake Aid

Caritas Workers Bring Hope To Area of Grave Destruction

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ROME, APRIL 7, 2009 (Zenit.org).- Benedict XVI is sending aid to earthquake victims in the form of Vatican firemen, while Caritas workers move forward to assist the affected towns.

Eight rescue workers, sent by the Holy See with the express permission of the Pope, have been collaborating since Monday to help victims of the earthquake in the Abruzzo region, said the corps’ commander, Domenico Giani, on Vatican Radio.

The earthquake, measuring 5.6 on the Richter scale, struck close to the city of L’Aquila, around 70 miles northeast of Rome. Officials report 228 dead, 15 people missing, and around 1,000 injured.

The official explained: «During the night, no sooner than the tragedy was known, I spoke with our superiors, with Bishop Renato Boccardo and Cardinal Giovanni Lajolo, secretary and president respectively of the Governor’s Office for Vatican City State. Then we informed the Holy Father, the Secretary of State and the whole Secretariat.»

«It seemed to us obligatory, at this time of great sorrow, that a team of our firemen should be present to give a hand,» he added, explaining that the Vatican security forces «are also prepared in this area of security and civil protection.»

Team approach

The Vatican sent a structural engineer to the area, and an eight-member team, with resources for civil protection and aid for the population.

The team is working in collaboration with the Italian emergency services in one of the most affected areas, the village of Onna, where 41 of the 250 inhabitants perished.

Giani said, «They worked throughout the night, recovering bodies, but now they are dedicated above all to helping the population, recovering what can be salvaged and giving moral support.»

«The Holy See,» he added, «with its different structures — Cor Unum, Caritas — always takes aid in the name of the Holy Father, when there is an emergency.» «In this case,» he said, «in addition to material and economic aid, professional help has also been provided.»
The engineer, Paolo De Angelis, explained on Vatican Radio that the situation «is disastrous» and that despite this, «solidarity between persons» is being manifested.

He continued: «We have been received very positively: this is the message we wished to bring, a message of solidarity which the population has fully welcomed.

«The present climate among the inhabitants is one of consternation. Here above all what people need is consolation, as they have been left without anything by the earthquake.»

Grave destruction

Father Vittorio Nozza, the director of Caritas in Italy, told ZENIT that the earthquake’s destruction has been very grave, and «not one single house was spared from demolition.»

He arrived today to L’Aquila and met with the diocesan bishop, Archbishop Giuseppe Molinari, and with the regional director of Caritas, Alberto Conti.

He said Caritas is meeting with each of the parish priests of the area «to hear firsthand what the most urgent needs are.»

They agreed «to divide the affected territory into seven areas to facilitate a homogeneous aid intervention.» A coordination center for Italian and diocesan Caritas is to be established immediately which will work not only during this time of emergency but also in the long-term for the region’s reconstruction.

They stated the goal to provide places of shelter for children, the elderly and the sick, so that adults can dedicate themselves to reorganizing their daily life.

The priest said: «There is much composure in the villages we have been to, but in places where they have lost one or more loved ones, the question is very strong: Where is God? We answer this question with prayer and our closeness.»

Father Dionisio Rodriguez, local Caritas director and pastor in Paganica, a town close to L’Aquila, plans to celebrate Easter Sunday Mass on a sports field for the earthquake victims.

«Easter Sunday offers a sign of hope and optimism,» he said, «People aren’t feeling much joy at the moment, but Easter Sunday provides us with a sign of life and renewal.»

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