Pope Francis celebrated the feast day of his namesake, Saint Francis, by visiting earthquake victims in central Italy.
The timing of the
visit was unannounced, but on Sunday, during his in-flight press
conference from Azerbaijan, the pontiff mentioned that he would travel
to the quake zone.
The pope arrived in Amatrice at 9.10 am on a car with tinted windows.
The town was hardest hit in the quake and has come to symbolise the
Accompanied by the Bishop of Rieti, Mgr Domenico Pompili, he went
inside a red-coated container that serves as a temporary school. The
primary school children welcomed him by singing the song of friendship
and giving him their drawings about the earthquake.
Outside, surrounded by people, Francis expressed his closeness and
"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 saying a Hail Mary and blessing them, the Holy Father 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 pope then hugged and greeted teachers, professors and students,
Amatrice Mayor Sergio Pirozzi, law enforcement officers, and
firefighters. He then walked to the danger (red) zone for a personal
Francis also stood with fire fighters for a picture. “I want a
picture with them because they are the ones who save people," he said.
Then, turning to them: "Every day I pray for you so you do not have to
work, because your work is painful. It is I who should thank you."
The local parish priest, Fr Savino D'Amelio, was surprised by the pope’s visit.
"We did not know,” he told Vatican Radio.
“We realised it when we suddenly saw a gathering of reporters,
cameramen and photographers . . . As soon as he arrived, he went
straight to the tent city where he met children. It was all very
beautiful and meaningful."
After that, "the Bishop of Rieti, Monsignor Domenico Pompili,
introduced to the Pope all of us priests and those who were present,
there, next to him. A very nice and sudden gesture, as we have grown
accustomed from the pope, who invited all of us to pray. The reaction of
the people was very emotional. It is significant that he shared with us
the very day of his namesake, the feast day of Saint Francis. "
The pope had expressed a desire to show his closeness and sympathy to
the people affected by the earthquake during the Angelus of 28 August,
four days after the earthquake.
On that occasion, he said, “I wish to
renew my spiritual closeness to the inhabitants of Latium, the Marches
and Umbria, hard hit by the earthquake in these past days.
“I think in particular of the people of Amatrice, Accumoli, Arquata
del Tronto and Norcia. Again I say to those dear people that the Church
shares their suffering and their worries.
“Dear brothers and sisters, as soon as it is possible, I hope to come
to see you, to bring you in person the comfort of the Faith, the
embrace of a father and a brother, and the support of Christian hope”.
Last Sunday, on the return flight from Azerbaijan he told reporters,
"It is my wish. Three dates have been proposed to me, two of which I do
not remember them, the third one is the first Sunday of Advent. As soon
as I am back I will choose. I will make a private visit, alone as a
priest, as a bishop, as pope. I would like to be close to the people".
In saying so he tried to "throw off" journalists.
This morning, Francis, after his stop in Amatrice, travelled to the other quake-hit areas in the Marches.