BY CAROL GLATZ AND CINDY WOODEN
WORKING together in solidarity for those in need is the only way to overcome the devastation caused by the earthquake and string of aftershocks which recently struck central Italy, Pope Benedict XVI has said.
“The violence of the tremor has created particularly difficult situations,” he said in a written message that was read by the Pope’s personal secretary, Mgr Georg Gänswein, at the start of a funeral Mass on Good Friday near the Italian city of L’Aquila.
The Pope’s secretary attended the state funeral as the Pope’s representative while the Vatican’s secretary of state, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, said the homily.
The Vatican released a copy of the message to journalists the same day.
“I am sure that, with the help of everyone, we can face the most pressing needs” that were triggered by the 6.3-magnitude earthquake that hit the city and province of L’Aquila on April 6, the papal message said.
“The Holy See aims to do its part together with parishes, religious institutes and lay groups,” the Pope said. Now was the time to act in cooperation with civil authorities who have been doing an excellent job, he said.
“Only in solidarity can such painful trials be overcome,” said the Pope.
And faith in God is the endless source of light and hope for these moments of pain and suffering, he said.
Italian authorities said nearly 300 people had been killed and more than 1,000 were injured. Some 28,000 people had been left homeless by the quake.
The main quake of April 6 was followed by hundreds of tremors, including a handful of powerful aftershocks that have caused more buildings to crumble and claimed more lives.
The Pope said in his funeral message that he has been following developments of this “huge tragedy” ever since he felt the first tremor at the Vatican – about 60 miles west of the epicentre.
He said he was happy to see such an outpouring of aid and support for survivors.
The Pope said he was present spiritually among those grieving the deaths of their loved ones and was praying that God would grant people the courage “to continue to have hope without giving in to discouragement”.
Hundreds of mourners attended the open-air Mass on the grounds of a military barracks near L’Aquila. Flags fluttered at half-mast as Italy declared a day of national mourning.
Four long rows of some 200 wooden coffins stretched across the grounds. Coffins were covered with flowers, framed pictures and mementos. Tiny white coffins holding a child sat on top of larger coffins holding the child’s dead parent. The Vatican had granted special permission for the funeral Mass held on Good Friday given the extraordinary circumstances of the occasion. Normally, there is no Eucharistic celebration on Good Friday and Holy Communion is instead distributed during the liturgy of the Lord’s Passion.
Attending the Mass were dozens of Italian political leaders, including Prime Minster Silvio Berlusconi and the president of the republic.
At the end of the Mass an imam gave an address and prayed over the coffins of six Muslim victims.
Last week the Pope prom ised to visit the survivors as soon as he could.
“My dear ones, I hope to come see you as soon as possible,” the Pope said.
He 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 impor tant 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 Fr Federico Lombardi, Vatican spokesman, said planning for a papal visit to the region was underway, but he said it would take place at least a week after Easter.