Pope Benedict XVI visited the northern Italian region of Emilia Romagna to express his solidarity with those affected by back-to-back earthquakes that have killed 26 people and injured many more in the past month.
“Ever since the beginning of the earthquake which affected you I have been close to you with my prayers and concern,” said the Pope to people in the small town of Rovereto Di Novi near Modena June 26.
“But when I saw that the trial had become more arduous, I felt the impelling need to come among you in person, and I thank the Lord for having enabled me to do so.”
Today’s venue was of particular poignancy as the local priest had been killed on May 29 as he went back into his church during an earthquake to save a statue of Our Lady.
“Here in Rovereto di Novi in the collapse of a church, which I have just visited, Father Ivan Martini lost his life,” recalled the Pope who also met with Fr. Martini’s brother.
Pope Benedict prayed before the rescued statue outside the Fr. Martini’s parish church before it was carried to the town’s main square where the Pontiff addressed a crowd that included the region’s priests, bishops and civic leaders.
The Pope drew attention to a passage from the Psalm 46 that he had recently come across while praying the Liturgy of the Hours – “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.”
He explained that the confidence expressed is “not that of supermen untouched by normal feelings” but that of faith.
“Yes we may feel fear and anguish, even Jesus did, but above all is the certainty that God is with us,” said the Pope, “We see this Love in the crucified Christ; at one and the same time a sign of suffering and of love.”
The first earthquake struck the region of Emilia Romagna on May 20 registering 6.1 on the Richter scale. It was then followed by two aftershocks. The second earthquake occurred on May 29 which registered 5.8 on the Richter scale.
On top of those killed or injured, the quakes have also forced thousands of people to abandon their homes and have destroyed many of the region’s historic buildings.
The Pope said that the people of Emilia Romagna were respected across Italy for their “humanity and sociability, for hard work and cordiality.”
“These qualities have been dealt a harsh blow by the current situation, but this must not and cannot affect your identity as a people, your history and your culture,” he said. And he rallied the crowds by stressing that “You are not and you will not be alone!”
“My presence among you is intended to be another such sign of love and hope,” he said, “Looking at you lands I have been profoundly moved by the sight of so many wounds, but I have also seen many hands extended to cure those wounds with you.”
After taking time to greet more people affected by the natural disaster as well as civic leaders, the Pope then returned to Rome by helicopter in the early afternoon.