Vatican City, 26 June 2012 (VIS) - At 9 a.m. today the Holy Father departed by helicopter from the Vatican to fly to the Italian region of Emilia Romagna which, beginning on 20 May, has been affected by a series of earthquakes that have left many dead and hundreds of injured. The tremors have forced thousands of people to abandon their homes, destroyed historic buildings and seriously damaged the infrastructure and economy of the entire area.
The Pope's helicopter landed at 10.30 a.m. at the sports ground of San Marino di Carpi where he was welcomed by Bishop Francesco Cavina of Carpi and by Franco Gabrielli, head of the Italian Civil Protection Department. The Pontiff then boarded a minibus to travel to Rovereto di Novi where he made a brief visit to the church of St. Catherine of Alexandria which partially collapsed during the earthquake killing the pastor Fr. Ivan Martini. Subsequently the Holy Father boarded a Jeep from which he greeted the faithful while being driven to the central square of Rovereto di Novi where, in the presence of the archbishops and bishops of the affected areas (Bologna, Carpi, Modena, Mantua, Ferrara and Reggio Emilia) he delivered his address.
Ample extracts from the Holy Father's words are given below:
"Ever since the beginning of the earthquake which affected you I have been close to you with my prayers and concern. 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. Thus I greet all of you who are gathered here, as with my mind and heart I embrace all the villages and all the people affected by the earthquake, especially the families and communities mourning their dead. May the Lord welcome them into His peace".
"I was aware that, apart from suffering the material consequences, your spirits were also being sorely tried by the continuation of the seismic activity, including even strong tremors, and by the loss of certain symbolic buildings in your towns and villages, in particular many churches. Here in Rovereto di Novi in the collapse of a church - which I have just visited - Fr. Ivan Martini lost his life. Paying homage to his memory, I address a special greeting to you, dear priests, and to all confreres who, as has happened at other difficult moments in the history of these lands, are showing their generous love for the people of God.
"As you all know, we priests (as well as religious and no small number of lay people) daily pray the 'Breviary' which contains the Liturgy of the Hours, the prayer of the Church which marks the hours of the day. We pray the Psalms in an order which is the same for the entire Catholic Church. Why am I telling you this? Because in recent days I came across this expression in Psalm 46: 'God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble'".
"These words seem to contrast with the fear we inevitably feel following an experience such as the one you have just been through; that is an immediate reaction, which can become more profound if the phenomenon is prolonged. However, the Psalm does not in fact refer to that kind of fear; and the confidence it expresses in not that of supermen untouched by normal feelings. The confidence expressed is that of the faith. Yes we may feel fear and anguish - even Jesus did - but above all is the certainty that God is with us. ... His Love is as solid as a rock. We see this Love in the crucified Christ; at one and the same time a sign of suffering and of love. This is the revelation of God Love, Who remained united to us even unto extreme abasement.
"On this rock, with this firm hope, we can build, we can rebuild. Italy was rebuilt on the postwar ruins, and not just material ruins, thanks also to help received, but above all thanks to the faith of so many people animated by a spirit of genuine solidarity, by the will to give a future to their families, a future of freedom and peace. You are a people whom all Italians respect for your 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. Remain faithful to your vocation as a fraternal and united people, and face everything with patience and determination, rejecting the temptations which are unfortunately always associated with such moments of weakness and need.
"The situation you are going through has highlighted an aspect which I hope will remain at the forefront of your minds: You are not and you will not be alone! Over these days, amidst so much destruction and pain, you have seen and felt how numerous people have expressed closeness, solidarity and affection through so many signs and concrete forms of assistance. My presence among you is intended to be another such sign of love and hope. 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. I have seen that life restarts with force and courage, and that is the most beautiful and lustrous sign of all.
"From here I wish to launch an appeal to the institutions, and to all citizens, despite the difficulties of the current time, to be like the Good Samaritan of the Bible who did not walk by indifferent to the one in need, but lovingly tended him, helped him, remained at his side and took full responsibility for the other's needs. The Church is close and will remain close with her prayers and with the concrete help of her organisations, especially Caritas, which will also undertake to rebuild the social fibre of parish communities".
Having completed his address, the Holy Father greeted the civil and religious authorities present. He then returned to the sports ground of San Marino di Carpi where his helicopter took off at midday, arriving in Rome shortly after 1.30 p.m.