By EDWARD PENTIN on National Catholic Register
Like many in Rome, I was awoken at around 3.30 this morning as the top floor apartment I was staying in gently swayed from an earthquake tremor for about 30 seconds, setting off car alarms. A slightly gentler aftershock followed about half an hour later.
It was ominously similar to the earthquake that struck L’Aquila in 2009 which resulted in 309 people losing their lives and which we also felt in the Eternal City.
As then, I knew that Rome would escape largely unscathed, but places close to the epicenter would not be so fortunate. Little did I know that the quake struck very close to Norcia, the birthplace of St. Benedict. I had only left the town the day before.
So far, the magnitude 6.2 earthquake has left 38 people in the region dead and 150 missing according to news reports. Many of the victims were in Accumoli and Amatrice — towns which have been devastated by the quake and which are only 20-30 miles from Norcia.
Pope Francis shelved his prepared general audience catechesis today and instead led pilgrims in praying the Sorrowful Mysteries of the Rosary for the victims.
“On hearing the news of the earthquake that has struck central Italy and which has devastated many areas and left many wounded, I cannot fail to express my heartfelt sorrow and spiritual closeness to all those present in the zones afflicted,” the Pope said Aug. 24. He offered his condolences to all who have lost loved ones, and his expressed his spiritual closeness to those who are “anxious and afraid.”
Norcia has become particularly well known in recent years because of the American Benedictine monks who re-founded the monastery there in 2000. In a statement posted on their Facebook page, the monks assured the public they were OK but highlighted the many injured, especially in the small mountain villages.
“Please pray for them,” they said. “We monks will do what we can to contribute here on the ground, but we’ll need your spiritual support in a special way during this period.”
They added: “We, as many others in Norcia and surrounding areas, suffered a lot of damage to our buildings and especially to our basilica. It will take some time to assess the extent of the damage, but it is very sad to see the many beautiful restorations we’ve made to St. Benedict’s birthplace reduced, in a moment, to disrepair.” The monks have most recently been restoring some of the side chapels of the basilica.
To the question of what can the public to do help, they wrote: “Please, pray for us, for those who have lost their lives, who have lost someone they love, who have lost their homes and livelihoods. We will need your help, as always but now in a special way, to start the project of rebuilding. Please consider making a gift to help us get started.”
I hope to return to Norcia soon and will give an update on the latest from there.
Update 3.23 p.m.:
The Vatican has said that “as a concrete sign of the Holy Father’s closeness to those affected by the earthquake, a team of six members of Vatican City’s Firefighting Corps left this morning for Amatrice.” It added that the team will work in accordance with Italy’s Civil Protection in the search and rescue of victims.