Pope Francis travelled by helicopter to L’Aquila, in Italy’s Abruzzo region, arriving a little after 8:30 a.m., on Sunday, 28 August. He held his first event with the local community in Piazza Duomo. Especially important was the presence of relatives of the victims of the devastating earthquake that struck the city on 6 April 2009. A delegation of prison inmates also attended. The following is a translation of the Holy Father’s words to them.
Dear brothers and sisters,
Good morning, Happy Sunday!
I am pleased to be here among you, and I thank the Cardinal Archbishop for the greeting he addressed to me on behalf of you all. Together with those of you present here, I affectionately embrace all the city and diocese of L’Aquila. I thank you for your presence, and also that of the authorities, prisoners, children — everyone: the people of God.
At this time of meeting with you, in particular the relatives of the earthquake victims, I want to express my closeness to their families and to your entire community, which has faced the consequences of that tragic event with great dignity.
Firstly, I thank you for your witness of faith — despite the pain and bewilderment, which are part of our faith as pilgrims, you fixed your eyes on Christ, crucified and risen, who with his love redeemed pain and death from meaninglessness.
And I think of one of you, who wrote to me some time ago, telling me that he had lost his only two teenage children. And many, many like this. Jesus has restored you to the arms of the Father, who does not let even one tear fall in vain — not even one! — but collects them all in his merciful heart.
In that heart are inscribed the names of your loved ones who have passed from time into eternity. Communion with them is more alive than ever. Death cannot break love, the Liturgy for the Dead reminds us: “For your faithful, Lord, life is changed not ended” (Preface I). But the pain is there, and beautiful words help, but the pain remains. And pain does not go away with words. Only proximity, friendship, affection: walking together, helping each other as brothers, and going forward. Either we are people of God, or we do not resolve painful problems such as this.
I congratulate you for the care with which you have built the Memorial Chapel. Memory is the strength of a people, and when this memory is enlightened by faith, the people do not remain prisoners of the past, but rather they journey, and they walk in the present towards the future, always staying attached to their roots, cherishing past experiences, good and bad. And with this treasure and these experiences they go forward. You, people of L’Aquila, have demonstrated a resilient character. Rooted in your Christian and civic traditions, it has enabled you to withstand the impact of the earthquake and to undertake immediately the courageous and patient work of reconstruction.
Everything had to be rebuilt: houses, schools, churches. But, as you well know, this is done alongside the spiritual, cultural and social reconstruction of the civic and ecclesial community.
Personal and collective rebirth, after a tragedy, is a gift of Grace and also the fruit of the commitment of each person and of everyone together. I underline this “together”: not in small groups, no. Together. All together. It is fundamental to activate and strengthen the organic collaboration, in synergy, of institutions and associative bodies — a diligent concord, far-sighted commitment, because we are working for the children, grandchildren, for the future.
In the work of reconstruction, churches deserve particular attention. They are the heritage of a community, not only in a historical and cultural sense, but also in terms of identity. Those stones are imbued with the faith and values of the people; and temples are also places that provide a driving force for its life, its hope.
And speaking of hope, I would like to greet and thank the delegation from the prisons of Abruzzo, present here. In you too, I greet a sign of hope, because also in the prisons there are many, too many, victims. Today here you are a sign of hope in human and social reconstruction.
I reiterate my greeting to you, and I offer my heartfelt blessing to you, your families and the entire town. Jemonnanzi!