L’Aquila (AsiaNews) - Prayers for the victims and those who are suffering, appreciation for those who help the people struck by the earthquake and continue to do so, admiration for "the courage, the dignity, and the faith" of the people of Abruzzo, the affirmation that this land "must again adorn itself with homes and churches," the commitment to solidarity "of the entire Church." Benedict XVI made a short but intense visit today to the earthquake stricken area of L'Aquila, where about 300 died.
"The pope has given us a sign of hope," says one student, summing up the profound meaning of Benedict XVI's visit, which included many gestures of closeness to the people who were able to approach him, whom he asked for news about their loved ones, their destroyed homes, their lost jobs, the future. He addressed similar words to the mayors and pastors of the area hit by the earthquake, who wanted to greet him.
The pope was thus able to put his finger on the difficulties that the people are experiencing, aggravated, in recent days, by the bad weather that forced Benedict XVI himself to go to the area by car, instead of by helicopter as previously planned.
The visit began in Onna, the emblematic area of the earthquake, 80 percent of which was destroyed. "The entire Church," he said at his arrival, "is here with me, accompanying your sufferings, participating in your pain over the loss of your relatives and friends, desiring to help you rebuild homes, churches, businesses that collapsed or were seriously damaged by the earthquake. I have admired," he added, "the courage, the dignity, and the faith with which you have confronted this harsh trial, demonstrating great determination not to give into adversity." "There is in you a power of spirit that brings hope."
In Onna, as he did later in L'Aquila, the pope prayed. Here it was a prayer for the victims of the earthquake, later in order to ask for "hope." "Holy Father," says the prayer of Onna, "Lord of heaven and earth, / listen to the cry of suffering and hope / that is raised from this community harshly tested by the earthquake! / It is the silent cry of the blood of mothers, fathers, young people / and also the little innocents that arises from this land. / They have been torn from the affection of their loved ones, / welcome them into your peace, Lord, who are God-with-us, / the Love of capable of giving life without end. / We need You and Your power, / because we feel small and fragile in the face of death; / we pray to You, help us, because only Your support / can raise us up and set us to resume together, / holding one another trustingly by the hand, the journey of life."
From the devastated town, the pope went to L'Aquila, passing from the damaged basilica of Collemaggio, particularly dear to the people of Abruzzo, where the urn with the body of Celestine V had been brought for the occasion. "My stop at the basilica of Collemaggio, to venerate the remains of the saint Pope Celestine V," Benedict XVI explained shortly afterward, "gave me the opportunity to put my finger on the wounded heart of the city. Mine was intended to be a homage to the history and faith of your land, and to all of you who identify with this saint. On his urn I left as a sign of my spiritual participation the pallium that was imposed on me on the day of the beginning of my pontificate."
In L'Aquila, a stop in front of the student dormitory "where," he said, "not a few young lives were cut off by the violence of the earthquake." It is here that the encounter with twelve students took place, who gave him a letter of thanks for the encouragement given to them by his visit. "He asked us about our studies," one of them said. "When he talked with us," he added, "he noticed that many of the students are future engineers, and said that he hoped these studies can be fruitful in the future precisely from the point of view of civil construction to prevent other disasters."
After this, meeting with the population of the city and those who are working in relief efforts, he first of all praised the commitment of those who came to help the victims. "Thank you," he told them, "for what you have done, and especially for the love with which you have done it. Thank you for the example you have given. Move forward united and coordinated, so that solutions may be found as soon as possible for those now living in tent cities. This is my heartfelt hope, and I pray for this."
In the same courtyard of the financial police academy, where the funeral for the victims was celebrated two weeks ago, the pope emphasized "the value and importance of solidarity, which, although it has been particularly manifest in moments of crisis, is like a fire concealed beneath the embers. Solidarity is a highly civic sentiment, and measures the maturity of a society. In practice, it is manifested in relief work, but it is not simply an efficient organizational machine: there is a soul, there is a passion, that is derived precisely from the great civil and Christian history of our people, whether this is shown in institutional forms or in volunteer work. And to this again, today, I wish to pay homage.
"The tragic event of the earthquake," he continued, "calls the civil community and the Church to a profound reflection. As Christians, we must ask ourselves: 'What does the Lord want to say to us through this sad event?'. We have experienced Easter while dealing with this trauma, questioning the Word of God and receiving new light from it. We have celebrated the death and resurrection of Christ while bearing in our minds and hearts your pain, praying that the trust in God and hope may not fail in the people affected. But also as the civil community, we must conduct a serious examination of conscience, so that the level of responsibility, at every moment, may not falter. Although it is wounded, L'Aquila can fly again." This latter phrase received special applause, because it has become the motto of the city hit by the earthquake.
At the end of his speech, before reciting the Regina Caeli, there was another prayer on behalf of the deceased, and one to Mary, to ask her, among other things: "Mother of our hope, give us eyes to see, / beyond suffering and death, the light of the resurrection, / give us your heart to continue, / even in trial, to love and serve."