VATICAN CITY — Pope Francis will meet with victims of the devastating earthquakes that rocked central Italy and destroyed the Basilica of St. Benedict in Norcia, the Vatican has announced. The meeting will take place in the Vatican on Thursday, January 5, the Vigil of the Epiphany.
The pope’s meeting with earthquake victims is part of ongoing Vatican efforts to increase support for the areas affected by the massive quakes. This Christmas, the Vatican made a unique addition to its Christmas Nativity scene — the cross that once stood atop the Basilica of St. Benedict in Norcia — inviting pilgrims and tourists to show their solidarity through prayers and voluntary offerings.
Almost 300 people were killed in an earthquake that struck near the town of Amatrice on August 24. Just over two months later, a series of quakes struck the same region, including a magnitude 6.6 earthquake on October 30 — the largest quake to strike Italy in over thirty years. Only two people died in the October quakes, although a number of towns, including Norcia, the birthplace of Sts. Benedict and Scholastica, suffered serious damage.
The Archbishop of Spoleto-Norcia, Renato Boccardo, said the meeting with the Pope “is dedicated especially to those who lost their loved ones, their homes, their economic security, those who have been displaced from their land.” The Pope, he said, wanted to welcome especially those who, in different ways, have been wounded by the quakes, and who are looking for “consolation and hope.”
Approximately 800 people from the diocese, with their Archbishop and their pastors, will take part in the audience. Representatives of the civil authorities leading rebuilding efforts will also be present. The pastor of the Benedictine Abbey of Sant’ Eutizio, 25 minutes drive north of Norcia, will address the Holy Father in the name of all those present.
A press release from the Archdiocese said the meeting will strengthen the local church in its principle task following the earthquake. The Church, it said, is called primarily to support “the interior-moral renewal of the people.”