Survivors of the earthquake that devastated central Italy must rebuild their hearts as well as their homes with a foundation built on hope, Pope Francis has said.
Families need something long lasting when coping with the
heartbreaking wounds of losing their homes and loved ones, the Pope told
survivors during an audience in the Vatican’s Paul VI hall.
“It is not optimism, there is no place for optimism. Yes, for hope
but [not for] optimism, which is momentary; it isn’t sustainable. In
order to rebuild, you need hope,” the Pope said.
The central Italian region, which includes the towns of Amatrice,
Rieti, Accumoli, and Pescara del Tronto, were rocked by a 6.2 magnitude
quake on August 24, 2016.
Amatrice was the hardest-hit town, accounting for 234 of the
estimated 290 deaths, according to the Italian Civil Protection office.
Pope Francis visited the areas affected by the quake in October,
saying that showing up immediately after the quake would have
complicated relief efforts and “would have been more of a hindrance than
“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; I pray for
you!” the Pope said during his visit.
Several weeks after his visit, a powerful 6.5 magnitude earthquake
struck Norcia in the early morning and reduced the Basilica of St
Benedict to rubble.
Arriving at the audience hall, the Pope greeted thousands of victims
and survivors of the earthquake, especially children who gave him
handwritten notes and drawings. Others handed the pope photos of their
loved ones to be blessed.
Before addressing them, the Pope heard from Raffaele Festa, a
resident of Amatrice, who along with his wife, Iole, and two children,
Leonardo and Lavinia, recounted their harrowing experience of survival
following the earthquake.
A priest from Spoleto, who was identified only as Fr Luciano, also
gave “witness to the strength, of solidarity, and help of my people” who
came together following the tragic disaster.
Jotting down notes as they spoke, the Pope said he preferred to
address survivors directly rather than through a prepared speech.
“I want to take your words and make them my own because in your
situation, the worst thing to do is [give] a sermon. Only by taking what
your heart says and making it mine can I give a reflection on this,” he
Recalling the morning he received word of the earthquake, the Pope
said he immediately felt that he had to go and visit the people and
“then I felt pain, a lot of pain. And with this pain, I went to
celebrate Mass that day.”
While those who have lost loved ones continue to feel the pain, the
Pope praised their bravery in choosing to not bring any more harm to
“that which is already wounded” and to stay in their towns despite the
“Each one of you has suffered something. Some have lost a lot –
children, parents, spouse,” he said. “Silence, caresses, the tenderness
of the heart helps” heal the pain of loss.
Before praying the Hail Mary with them, Pope Francis thanked the
survivors, the clergy and volunteers “who have taken part in your pain.”
“Thank you for all that you’ve done to help each other in rebuilding
hearts, homes, the social fabric and, with your example”, repairing the
selfishness in the hearts of those who haven’t suffered this, the Pope