At 9:10 this morning, Pope Francis visited the people of Amatrice, the town that was devastated by the earthquake of August 24. Accompanied by Most Reverend Domenico Pompili, Bishop of Rieti, the Pope visited the school and then the “red zone” of the area that has been closed off for safety reasons.
Last Sunday during the in-flight press conference on his return trip from Baku to Rome, the Pope said that he would make this visit “privately, alone, as a priest, bishop and Pope. But alone. I want do to this and I want to be close to the people.”
Again in his reflection of August 28, the Holy Father expressed “his spiritual closeness to the inhabitants of Latium, the Marches and Umbria, hard hit by the earthquake of the past days. I think in particular the people of Amatrice, Accumoli, Arquata del Tronto and Pescara and Norcia. Again I say to those dear people that the Church shares their suffering and their concerns. We pray for the dead and the survivors. […] Dear brothers and sisters, as soon as possible I hope to come to see you, to personally bring you the comfort of faith, the fatherly and brotherly embrace and support of Christian hope.”
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.
Nealy 4,000 people are living in tents near Amatrice after their homes were destroyed in the 6.0-magnitude earthquake. Afterwards, the Pope stopped in the ‘St. Raphael Borbona Assisted Living Facility’ in Rieti while on his way to nearby Accumoli and Arquata del Tronto to bring his message of hope and solidarity to them as well.
The Holy Father stopped for almost two hours with the elderly in Borbona, making a brief stop at the Command Post of the Fire Brigade in Cittareale – base camp for the earthquake zone. He then traveled to Accumoli, one of the cities most affected, where he greeted several people including the mayor, in Piazza San Francesco and he prayed in front of the Church of San Francesco destroyed by the earthquake.
From there he traveled to Pescara del Tronto, stopping three times along the way to greet small groups of people. Shortly before 14:00, the Holy Father arrived in Arquata del Tronto.
In the visit to Pescara Del Tronto and Arquata del Tronto, the Pope was accompanied by Most Reverend Giovanni D’Ercole, bishop of Ascoli Piceno. In Arquata del Tronto, the Pope greeted more than 100 people, addressing a few words to them and praying with them. He also visited a make-shift school that was set up in the tent city.
“Good afternoon to you all,” he said. “I wanted to be close to you right now and say to you that you are in my heart and I know, I know your suffering and your anguish, and I also know about your dead, and I am with you, and so I wanted to be here today.
“Now we pray to the Lord to bless you and pray for your loved ones who have stayed there … and gone to heaven. Ave Maria …. [Blessing]
“And courage, always going forward, always forward. Times will change and you will be able to move forward. I am close to you, I’m with you.”
Finally he visited San Pellegrino di Norcia in Umbria. He was accompanied by the Archbishop of Spoleto-Norcia, Most Reverend Renato Boccardo. The Pope prayed in the red zone in front of the San Pellegrino church which was heavily damaged. He then greeted the people who were waiting for him outside and using the police megaphone, addressed these words to them: “I greet you all. I was close to you and I feel very close in this time of sadness and pray for you and ask the Lord to give strength to move forward. And now I invite you to pray all together the Hail Mary.”
Francis then returned to Rome.
All photographs published in this article are copyright of the Osservatore Romano.