The New York Times reports that 120 people have died in the severe earthquake that hit central Italy early Wednesday morning, awakening residents in Rome, which is almost a hundred miles southwest.
The earthquake, which had a preliminary magnitude of 6.2, struck at 3:36 am, about 6.5 miles southeast of the town of Norcia in the Umbria region, followed by about 200 aftershocks over the next several hours, including a 5.5-magnitude tremor at 4:33 am.
The authorities said the quake was comparable in intensity to one in 2009 in the Abruzzo region of central Italy that killed more than 300 people.
Towns in three regions—Umbria, Lazio and Marche—were devastated by the quake, which could be felt as far away as Bologna in the north and Naples in the south. The deaths appeared to be concentrated in four communities: at least 86 in the towns of Amatrice and Accumoli, in Lazio, and at least 32 deaths in Marche, in the village of Arquata del Tronto and the hamlet of Pescara del Tronto. Pope Francis set aside his planned remarks for his general audience and led a pilgrims in praying the Sorrowful Mysteries of the Rosary for the victims of the earthquake: “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 August 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.” … According to the BBC, the mayor of Amatrice, one of the worst-hit areas, said “the town is gone.” Officials warn that the death toll will likely continue to rise as rescue efforts move forward.
Pope Francis, hearing that the mayor of Amatrice said his town “no longer exists” and learning that many children are also among the dead, said “I am deeply saddened.” “For this reason I want to assure all the people of Accumoli, Amatrice, the diocese of Rieti, Ascoli Piceno and all the people of Lazio, Umbria and Le Marche of the prayers and close solidarity of the entire Church,” he said.
The Pope then offered his thanks to all the volunteer and rescue workers assisting in the affected areas, asking Jesus, “who is always moved by compassion before the reality of human suffering, that he may console the broken hearted, and through the intercession of the Virgin Mary bring them peace.”
“With Jesus, let our hearts be moved with compassion,” he said, and invited the some 11,000 pilgrims present to join him in praying the Sorrowful Mysteries of the Rosary.
The Benedictine Monks of Norcia, in a message sent out by e-mail early Wednesday, said, “We are OK. We are alive, and there are no serious injuries to report. Sadly, there are many injuries to report among the people of the region, especially those in small mountain villages. Please pray for them. 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.”
In a later message left on Facebook, they stated:
After a careful study of the developing seismic situation in our region of Italy, as a precautionary measure, we have decided to temporarily transfer our community to Rome.
The monks of the international Benedictine headquarters at St. Anselmo in Rome have kindly offered our monks a place to remain during this period of uncertainty. We would be grateful if you added the monks of St. Anselmo to your prayers for their generosity during our time of need.
While the community is in Rome, two monks will remain in Norcia to keep watch over the basilica and monitor the developing situation. They will avoid danger by sleeping in tents outside the city walls.
We strive to maintain the order of the Rule even during the most difficult of circumstances, and this transfer, while disruptive, will ensure the safety of our monks and grant us all the peace to continue to practice our monastic life.
Please continue to pray for our community, (and consider giving a gift to help our effort to rebuild.
By Carl E. Olson
Photo 1: A 2003 photo of the church of St. Benedict or San Benedetto, cared for by the Monks of Norcia
Photo 2: A crucifix in the Monastery of Saint Benedict in Norcia