News Headlines > Pope makes under the radar visit to earthquake 'red zone' in Amatrice

04 October 2016 | by Christopher Lamb

Pope makes under the radar visit to earthquake 'red zone' in Amatrice

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Francis travelled to area without Vatican press corps to be 'close to the people'

Pope Francis this morning (Tuesday) paid a visit to the earthquake-hit town of Amatrice where he went to a school and into the “red zone”, an area cordoned off for safety reasons. 

Francis explained at the weekend he wanted to go to the town “privately, alone, as a priest, bishop and Pope” in order to be close to the people, many of whom lost their homes and loved ones after the earthquake which took place on 24 August. 

He travelled to the region today without any reporters present and while in Amatrice was accompanied by the Bishop of Rieti, Domenico Pompili. Almost 300 people as a result of the 6.2 magnitude tremors which destroyed numerous buildings including a school complex and flattened entire villages in the nearby region.  

At the time, the scale of the destruction was described by Sergio Pirozzi, the mayor of Amatrice, who said at the time: "The town isn't here anymore."

Soon after news of the earthquake emerged the Pope sent six members of the Vatican fire brigade to help with the rescue operation and promised that he would personally visit the area affected. Catholic charitable agencies in Italy and across Europe have been providing assistance for those who have lost their homes while numerous priests and religious were caught up in the disaster.

One of the most enduring images from the earthquake was a photograph of a 35-year-old Albanian nun, Sister Marjana Lleshi, sitting on a pavement looking dazed and bloodied next to a body covered by a blanket and using her mobile phone to text friends and family. She had been convinced she was about to die when her home, the Don Minozzi Convent in Amatrice, was badly damaged in the earthquake, and had earlier sent messages asking for prayers, and saying farewell.

After the visit to Amatrice, which took place on the feast day of his namesake St Francis of Assisi, the Pope continued with a trip to a hospital for the elderly in Borbona where he met individually with 60 patients displaced by the earthquake. He had lunch with a group of them and stayed for two hours.  

Following this he travelled to Accumoli, a town badly hit by the earthquake, where he prayed in front of the Church of San Francesco. From here he moved onto the villages of Pescara del Tronto and then Arquata del Tronto. In Arquata del Tronto, the Pope said: "I wanted to be close to you and say to you that you are in my heart.  I know your suffering and your anguish, and I also know of your dead, and I am with you, and so I wanted to be here today."

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