POPE TO VISIT ITALIAN EARTHQUAKE VICTIMS, INSPECT DAMAGED FRESCOES

      VATICAN (CWN) -- Pope John Paul II will travel to the Umbrian region of central Italy on January 3, to visit the people who have been struck by a series of earthquakes there. His day-long trip-- conducted in stages by helicopter-- will take him to the towns of Annifo, Cesi, and Assisi. At each site he will meet with families whose homes have been destroyed, and see churches that have been severely damaged by the tremors. At Assisi, he will pray at the tomb of St. Francis, and inspect the basilica, which also sustained severe damage.

      An art restoration expert said on Monday that priceless frescoes in the Basilica of St. Francis have likely avoided damage from a running water faucet that soaked the artwork over the weekend.

      The water-logged frescoes, painted by the school of Giotto and the Roman school more than four centuries ago, mostly escaped damage during earthquakes three months ago, while others were completely destroyed. A government commission overseeing repairs said the leak, discovered on Sunday, was caused by a faucet that wasn't shut tight in the upper basilica. The water was being used to keep down dust created by removal of material from the damaged ceiling. The water leaked into the lower basilica soaking the artwork.

      Experts cautioned that they probably wouldn't know whether water altered any colors until the frescoes dry out in a few days when Pope John Paul is scheduled to visit the lower basilica on Saturday to pray at the tomb of St. Francis.

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January 2-4, 1998 volume 9, no. 2          DAILY CATHOLIC