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ITALY-QUAKE (THIRD UPDATE) Apr-9-2009 (1,090 words) With photos posted April 6, 7 and 8. xxxi

Pope says he wants to visit Italian earthquake victims

By Cindy Wooden
Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Encouraging solidarity with the victims of the earthquake that struck central Italy April 6, Pope Benedict XVI also promised to visit the survivors.

"My dear ones, I hope to come see you as soon as possible," the pope said April 8 at the end of his weekly general audience, which is televised throughout Italy.

As of April 9 Italian government officials raised the official death toll in the city and province of L'Aquila to 275 people and said more than 1,000 were injured.

The main quake, which struck at 3:30 a.m. April 6, registered a magnitude of between 5.8 and 6.3 on the Richter scale. Hundreds of tremors followed, including an aftershock April 7 that registered 5.3 on the Richter scale and caused more buildings to crumble.

At the end of his audience, the pope said he wanted to reaffirm his closeness to the people of central Italy suffering because of the earthquake.

Pope Benedict praised the work of the Italian government, police, firefighters, military and volunteers working to rescue victims, house and feed the thousands left homeless, and ascertain which homes, churches, offices and businesses are safe to enter.

The assistance efforts, he said, "demonstrate how important solidarity is for overcoming such a harsh trial together. Once again, I want to tell those dear people that the pope shares their suffering and their worries."

"Know that the pope prays for all of you, imploring the mercy of God for the deceased, and he asks for the maternal comfort of Mary and the support of Christian hope for their families and the survivors," Pope Benedict said.

Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, Vatican spokesman, said planning for a papal visit to the region was under way, but he said it would take place at least a week after Easter.

Father Lombardi said Pope Benedict spoke to Archbishop Giuseppe Molinari of L'Aquila by telephone after the audience and promised that after his chrism Mass April 9 he would send the archdiocese some of the sacred oils he blessed for use in the sacraments since the archbishop would not be able to celebrate a chrism Mass in his own cathedral.

Archbishop Molinari told SIR, the news agency of the Italian bishops' conference, that he hoped the pope's visit would take place in the first days after Easter; Italian news agencies quoted a spokesman for the archdiocese as saying the pope would visit April 13 or 14, flying by helicopter from Castel Gandolfo, the papal villa outside Rome where the pope was scheduled to spend Easter week.

Among the rescue workers assisting in the region were eight members of the Vatican fire department.

Domenico Giani, director of Vatican security services, told Vatican Radio that as soon as he heard about the earthquake he and the officials in charge of the Vatican governor's office discussed ways they could help and then spoke to Pope Benedict about it.

"It seemed important at this moment of great pain to ensure that one of our fire department squads was present to lend a hand," he said.

The firefighters, including a structural engineer, were sent to Onna, a tiny town near L'Aquila that was almost completely destroyed by the quake; 40 of the town's 350 residents were killed.

Giani said that after helping recover bodies the first night the Vatican firefighters started assisting the survivors.

Interviewed from Onna, Paolo De Angelis, the Vatican structural engineer, told Vatican Radio April 7, "The situation is disastrous. The town is destroyed."

But, he said, even though most of the residents have lost everything, they are helping each other.

The quake, which was felt even 70 miles away in Rome, also did major damage in the town of Paganica, where it claimed the life of Abbess Gemma Antonucci, head of the Poor Clares' Convent of St. Clare.

In an interview with SIR, Father Dionisio Rodriguez Cuartas, the pastor in Paganica and director of Caritas L'Aquila, said the roof of the Poor Clares' convent caved in.

In the early afternoon April 6, rescue workers were able to recover the body of the abbess and to free another nun from the debris. Two of the dozen members of the community were hospitalized with broken bones; the others were unharmed.

In a telegram the same day to Archbishop Molinari, the Vatican secretary of state said Pope Benedict had asked him to convey his "participation in the pain of the dear population struck by this tragic event."

"In assuring fervid prayers for the victims, particularly the children, His Holiness invokes the Lord to comfort the families, and while he addresses affectionate words of encouragement to the survivors and those involved in the rescue operations, he sends all a special apostolic blessing," Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone told the archbishop.

Archbishop Molinari told SIR that many of the churches in his diocese had been damaged or totally destroyed; his residence and chancery also were heavily damaged.

The region had been experiencing small quakes for weeks, he said.

"Thank God I was not in my room asleep because I did not feel very safe," he said; instead he went to his office to deal with paperwork.

As soon as the quake hit, he left the building with a priest and the nuns he lives with, the archbishop said.

"The most beautiful churches" in L'Aquila and nearby towns were destroyed, he said, listing five buildings. And, like the Poor Clares' convent, the cathedral was damaged when several sections of the roof caved in.

Meanwhile, the Vatican announced April 9 that Cardinal Bertone was to say an April 10 funeral Mass for victims of the quake.

The pope's personal secretary, Msgr. Georg Ganswein, also was to be present at the Mass as a "sign of the pope's closeness to all those suffering because of the earthquake," said a Vatican press statement.

The funeral Mass, to be held in a military barracks in L'Aquila, was to be attended by all the bishops of the Abruzzi region, Father Lombardi told journalists April 9. He said Cardinal Bertone also would have an opportunity to "make contacts and get a sense of the situation" ahead of the pope's planned visit to L'Aquila.

The Vatican statement said, given the extraordinary circumstances of the occasion, the Vatican's Congregation for Divine Worship and the Sacraments has granted special permission for the funeral Mass to be celebrated on Good Friday, April 10.

Normally, there is no eucharistic celebration on Good Friday and holy Communion is instead distributed during the liturgy of the Lord's Passion, it said.


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