POPE COMFORTS, ENCOURAGES ITALIAN QUAKE VICTIMS

      VATICAN (CWN) -- Pope John Paul II made an emotional visit to Assisi on Saturday, January 3. Speaking at the basilica in the town made famous by St. Francis, where earthquakes have caused massive damage over the past three months, the Holy Father called for a continuation of the great saint's efforts to promote brotherhood, reconciliation, and peace.

      In a day-long tour through the Umbrian region of central Italy, the Pope was obviously moved as he spoke with families that had lost their homes because of the earthquakes, which have been occurring since last September. Returning to Rome on Sunday, he told his Angelus audience, that the effects of the seismic activity were made more severe because of the winter cold. He said that he had wanted to visit the region "to meet with our brothers, who have been sorely tested, to share their sorrow and their hopes."

      In the town of Annifo, the first stop on his trip, the Pope spoke outside a makeshift chapel built by relief workers to replace the church which had been destroyed. "I greet you with affection," he said. "Today I am finally realizing a desire that I have carried in my heart since the first dramatic news of the earthquake.... to convey my sentiments to you personally, and to embrace you symbolically." He said that he had been following the news from the region continually since the first earthquake was followed up by a second tremor.

      Viewing the ruins around him, the Pope nonetheless exhorted the people to keep up their spirits. "Continue to advance together, with confidence," he said; "Look to the future with an open spirit!" The Pope expressed his admiration for the "spiritual energy" of the people who are struggling to overcome the effects of the natural disaster. He remarked on the "remarkably generous response" that has come from neighbors.

      Reaching Assisi, the Holy Father visited the tomb of St. Francis, amid the foundation of the basilica-- which has suffered serious damage but, unlike most churches in the area, has been spared from complete destruction. There too he saluted those who are working to restore the city, and urged them to follow the example of their patron saint, working in a spirit of charity and brotherhood.

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January 6, 1998 volume 9, no. 4          DAILY CATHOLIC