Pope Francis makes surprise visit to Amatrice to pray for earthquake victims

Pope Francis prays at the red zone in Amatrice during a private Oct 4 2016visit to those affected by a massive earthquake in August Credit LOsservatore Romano CNA Pope Francis prays at the red zone in Amatrice during a private Oct. 4, 2016, visit to those affected by a massive earthquake in August. | L'Osservatore Romano.

On Tuesday Pope Francis made an unannounced private visit to the small Italian city of Amatrice to offer support  areas devastated by a massive earthquake in August, where he offered a message of comfort and hope.

"I let a bit of time pass, so that some things could be repaired such as the school, but from the first moment I felt that I had to come to you. Simply for nothing more than to pray. I pray for you," the Pope said during his Oct. 4 visit.

He said that "closeness and prayer" were the offering he brought, and prayed that the Lord would bless those affected, and that the Virgin Mary would "comfort you in this moment of sadness, pain and trial."

"Go forward, there is always a future, there are many loved ones who have left us. They have fallen here, let us pray to the Virgin for them. Let us do it together."

According to the Holy See Press Office, after arriving to Amatrice at 9:10 in the morning, the Pope, accompanied by Rieti's Bishop Domenico Pompili, went directly to the city's school, where he offered his brief words, comforted survivors and asked the children to join him in praying the Hail Mary.

He later visited the "red zone" of the city, which is where the majority of the destruction took place and is closed off due to reasons of security. Piles of rubble that have yet to be cleared away and half-destroyed buildings are still visible.

The Pope later went to the "San Raffaele Borona" assisted living home in Rieti, where he greeted 60 patients - most of whom are elderly who lost their homes in the earthquake - one by one, and ate lunch with them.

After spending nearly two hours there, the Pope made a brief stop at the Command of the Fire Brigade in Cittareale, which serves as the base camp for the earthquake zone.

He then traveled to Accumoli, another of the cities hardest hit, where he greeted different groups of people, including the mayor, and prayed in front of the church of St. Francis, which was destroyed by the quake.

From there he went to Pescara del Tronto, making three breif stops along the way to greet small groups of people. He was accomnpanied by the Bishop of Ascoli Piceno, Giovanni D'Ercole, who then accompanied the Pope to the nearby town of Arquata del Tronto, arriving shortly before 2p.m.

The Pope was accompanied by the Bishop of Ascoli Piceno, Giovanni D'Ercole

In Arquata del Tronto, Pope Francis he greeted more than 100 people, speaking breifly to them and praying with them before visiting a school that has been set up in the tent camps.

Francis told the people that he carries them in his heart, and knows of their "suffering and your anguish."

"I also know of your deaths and I am with you and because of this I wanted to be here," he said, and led the group in praying a Hail Mary for both the survivors, and those who "went to heaven."

"Have courage, always go forward, always forward," he said, adding that "times will change and you will be able to move forward. I am close to you, I am with you."

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In the afternoon the Pope made the final stop in his visit to the earthquake zones, pausing in San Pellegrino di Norcia, in Umbria, where he prayed in the "red zone" in front of the church of S. Pellegrino, which was badly damaged during the quake.

Accompanied by the Archbishop of Spoleto-Norcia, Renato Boccardo, he greeted the people gathered, telling them "I have been close to you and I feel very close in the moment of sadness, and I pray for you and I ask the Lord to give you the strength to go forward."

He led them in praying the Hail Mary before set out for Rome at 3:30p.m.

On Sunday while on board his return flight from Baku, Azerbaijan to Rome, Pope Francis said that three dates had been proposed to him, and that while he didn't remember the first two, one was the first Sunday of Advent, and that he needed "to choose" the date he wanted to go.

Regardless of the day, Francis said he wanted to make the visit "privately, alone, as a priest, as a bishop, as Pope, but alone, that's how I want to do it. I would like to be close to the people."

Close to 300 people were killed when a 6.2-magnitude quake hit the town of Norcia Aug. 24, at 3:36a.m. with several strong aftershocks following. Out of those who died, more than 230 were from Amatrice.

At one point after the initial quake, the mayor of Amatrice, one of the worst-hit areas, said "the town is gone."

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The day of the earthquake Pope Francis was scheduled to hold his weekly general audience, however, instead of giving his usual catechesis, he put the speech aside and led those present in praying a rosary for the victims of the earthquake.

In his Aug. 28 Angelus address, the Pope expressed his "spiritual closeness to the inhabitants of Lazio, delle Marche and Umbria, which have been greatly affected by the recent earthquake."

He offered special closeness to the people of Amatrice, Accumoli, Arquata and Pescara del Tronto and Norcia, telling them that "the Church shares their suffering and their concern."

Rumors have circulated in the media saying that Pope Francis could stop in Assisi while on his way back to the Vatican to mark the Oct. 4 feast his namesake, St. Francis of Assisi, but it has yet to be confirmed.

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