PRAYER FOR THE HURTING. Pope Francis prays at the ‘red zone’ in Amatrice during his private visit to those affected by the massive earthquake that hit in August. L’Osservatore Romano 


Pope Francis made a surprise visit on Oct. 4 to the town of Amatrice, Italy, which was devastated by an earthquake that struck on Aug. 24.

He arrived at 9:10am in the town before moving on to nearby Accumoli and Arquata del Tronto, towns also hard hit by the quake. The 6.2-magnitude earthquake took 297 lives, 234 of them in Amatrice, while 238 people were rescued from the rubble.

On arrival in a VW Golf, the Pope was welcomed by schoolchildren; he then visited a prefabricated school built after the natural disaster. At the school, he offered brief words, comforted survivors and asked the children to join him in praying the Hail Mary.

The Holy Father also visited a so-called “red zone” — the most affected area of the town. He stopped in front of the rubble to pray. Piles of rubble that have yet to be cleared away and half-destroyed buildings are still visible.

The Pope was accompanied by Bishop Domenico Pompili of Rieti, who, along with the bishop of Ascoli, only heard the Pope would be visiting the morning of Oct. 4, according to Italian media reports. Francis did not want to the visit preannounced in the mass media.  

On the papal plane back from Azerbaijan on Oct. 2, he said he was studying three dates to make the visit and that he would choose one on his return. “I’ll do it privately, alone, as a priest, as a bishop, as Pope, but alone; that’s how I want to do it,” he said. “I would like to feel, to be close to the people. But I still don’t know how.”

During the Angelus on Aug. 28, four days after the earthquake, Francis said he would go to the affected areas “as soon as possible,” but delayed doing so in order to avoid hampering relief efforts.

Using a microphone to address the people of Amatrice, he said: “I did not want to be a bother, so I left a little time to pass. I’m just here to say that I am close to you and that I am praying for you. Closeness and prayer — this is my offering to you.” 

He added: “We have to move forward despite the many loved ones who have left us. We have to keep moving forward together, to help each other, because alone it is difficult. One walks better together; alone, No.” 

“God bless all of you,” the Pope continued. “May Our Lady keep you in this moment of sadness. Let’s go forward. There are so many loved ones who have left us. They have fallen here, under the rubble. Let’s pray to Our Lady for them.” The Pope then recited a Hail Mary with the local faithful.

Then, mid-morning, the Holy Father visited the San Raffaele Borbona nursing home in the province of Rieti, where he greeted 60 patients, most of whom were elderly people displaced by the earthquake. The Pope joined them for lunch.

According to Vatican Radio, he made a brief stop at the command post of the fire brigade in Cittareale, the base camp for the earthquake zone. He then traveled to Accumoli, where he greeted several people, including the mayor, in Piazza San Francesco. He also prayed in front of the Church of San Francesco, which was 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 2pm, the Holy Father arrived in Arquata del Tronto.

During the visit to Pescara Del Tronto and Arquata del Tronto, the Pope was accompanied by Bishop Giovanni D’Ercole of Ascoli Piceno. In Arquata del Tronto, the Pope greeted more than 100 people, addressing them and praying with them. He also visited a makeshift school that was set up in the tent city.

Pope Francis’ last stop on his journey through the earthquake zones was San Pellegrino di Norcia in Umbria.  He was accompanied by Archbishop Renato Boccardo of Spoleto-Norcia. According to Vatican Radio, 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. Using the police megaphone, he addressed them with these words: “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 [you] strength to move forward. And now I invite you to pray, all together, the Hail Mary.” 

The Pope left the region at 3:30pm and did not visit the town of Norcia, the birthplace of St. Benedict, which suffered some damage but no loss of life. The Benedictine monks there have had to move out of the town and live in makeshift accommodations nearby, following significant internal damage to the basilica and monastery. 

After a lengthy lull in aftershocks, a relatively large 3.4-magnitude tremor struck close to Norcia at 2:41pm Oct. 4. It was some distance away from the town the Pope was visiting. 

CNA contributed

to this report.