VATICAN CITY, APRIL 8, 2009 (Zenit.org).- Benedict XVI affirmed that he is planning to travel as soon as possible to the Abruzzo area affected by an earthquake Monday.
The Pope announced this today during the general audience in St. Peter’s Square, and he expressed his “spiritual closeness” to the victims of the earthquake that struck close to the city of L’Aquila, around 70 miles northeast of Rome. Officials report 250 dead.
“The speed with which the authorities, the police, volunteers and other workers are helping our brothers shows the importance of solidarity to overcome together such painful trials,” he affirmed.
The Pontiff said, “Once again, I want to say to those people that the Pope shares your pain and your concern; very dear ones, I hope to be able to visit you as soon as possible.
“Know that the Pope prays for all, imploring the Lord’s mercy for the deceased, Mary’s maternal consolation and the support of Christian hope for your families and the survivors.”
Setting a date
Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, director of the Vatican press office, said that the visit “will be in a short time, but not imminent; a date has yet to be fixed.”
“The fact that the Holy Father wishes to go to the people affected by the earthquake does not mean that he is going to leave before Easter,” said the Vatican spokesman.
On Good Friday morning in L’Aquila, the town closest to the epicenter of the quake, a solemn funeral for most of the 272 people who died in the disaster will be held.
Archbishop Giuseppe Molinari of L’Aquila told SIR agency that Benedict XVI will most likely visit the victims of the earthquake next week.
He described the visit as “a comforting presence and a great gift” and said he received the news with “gratitude” and “emotion.”
The prelate continued: “The Pope’s visit gives us hope and strength to face the present situation, which is so difficult, and the future, which is so uncertain. We are moved and grateful to the Holy Father for his visit. His presence is truly comforting.”
The Salesians in Italy have made public their intention to send volunteers to the area affected by the quake, and they offered a center which will serve as a base for various strategic interventions.
In agreement with those in charge of civil protection, Father Alberto Lorenzelli, superior of the Salesians in Central Italy — which includes the Abruzzo region — has committed himself to organize the aid of Salesian volunteers, including young people and the Salesians themselves.
“We are preparing ourselves because we want to coordinate our intervention with the diocese of L’Aquila and the structures of the territory, so that we can be more useful and efficient,” said Father Lorenzelli to the Salesian agency ANS.
He continued, “We hope to give qualified continuity to the hectic work being carried out these days by the specialized civil protection personnel and the entities that intervened promptly.
“We hope that our work in L’Aquila will pass the inspection of the firemen and become a center of reference for different interventions.”