Pope leads 11,000 pilgrims praying rosary for quake victims

IMAGE: CNS photo/Remo Casilli, Reuters

By Cindy Wooden

VATICAN CITY (CNS) — Hearing the mayor of Amatrice in central
Italy say his town no longer exists and knowing there were children who died
Aug. 24 in the earthquakes that struck the region, Pope Francis turned his
weekly general audience into a prayer service.

the audience in St. Peter’s Square, Pope Francis said he had prepared a normal
audience talk on how the merciful Jesus is close to people, but given the
devastation in central Italy, he decided to lead the recitation of the
sorrowful mysteries of the rosary.

National Institute of Geophysics and Volcanology reported the first quake,
which registered a magnitude 6.0, struck at 3:36 a.m. with an epicenter about
100 miles northeast of Rome between the towns of Accumoli and Amatrice. The
U.S. Geological Survey said the magnitude was 6.2 and the epicenter was closer
to Norcia, the birthplace of St. Benedict.

quakes — at least two of which registered more than 5.0 — continued for
several hours after the main quake. By early afternoon, the death toll had
reached 38 but was expected to rise.

emergency workers began digging people out from under the rubble of collapsed
buildings and the number of verified deaths climbed, Pope Francis arrived in
St. Peter’s Square for his general audience.

the news of the earthquake that has struck central Italy and devastated entire
areas, leaving many dead and wounded, I cannot fail to express my heartfelt
sorrow and my closeness” to everyone in the earthquake zone, especially those
who lost loved ones and “those who are still shaken by fear and terror,”
the pope said.

heard the mayor of Amatrice say, ‘The town no longer exists,’ and knowing that
there are children among the dead, I am deeply saddened,” Pope Francis

pope thanked all the volunteers and emergency workers who were trying to rescue
victims people trapped under the rubble.

the people in the region of the prayers and “the embrace of the whole
church,” the pope asked the estimated 11,000 pilgrims and tourists in St.
Peter’s Square to join him in praying that “the Lord Jesus, who is always
moved by human suffering, would console the brokenhearted and give them peace.”

the Benedictine monastery in Norcia, a community growing in fame because of its prayer life and brewery, the 15 monks
and five guests were already awake when the first quake hit, Benedictine Father
Benedict Nivakoff told Catholic News Service. Aug. 24 is the feast of St.
Bartholomew and “on feast days we get up earlier” to pray, he said.

of the monks and the monks’ guests are safe,” he said. But the Basilica of
St. Benedict suffered “considerable structural damage,” and the
monastery will need repairs as well.

a half hour of the first quake, Father Nivakoff said, the square outside the
monastery was filled with people “because it is the safest place in town
— around the statue of St. Benedict.”

no buildings collapsed, it is obvious that many homes are no longer habitable,
he said. The monks have set up a reception desk to help meet their neighbors’

basilica, he said, is closed pending an inspection by civil engineers, who were
to arrive the afternoon of Aug. 24. However, Father Benedict said, “the
facade seems to have detached” from the rest of the building and major
repairs are likely.

is just 45 miles from Norcia and, according to Franciscan Father Enzo
Fortunato, the quake was felt strongly at the convent and basilica that suffered
major damage from an earthquake in 1997.

Fortunato told the Italian news agency ANSA that the quake woke all the friars,
many of whom ran to the Basilica of St. Francis. No damage was visible, he

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