Last Sunday during the in-flight press conference on his return trip from Baku to Rome, the Pope said that he would make this visit privately, alone, as a priest, bishop and Pope. But alone. I want do to this and I want to be close to the people.
In his reflection of August 28, the Holy Father expressed his spiritual closeness to the inhabitants of Latium, the Marches and Umbria, hard hit by the earthquake of the past days. I think in particular of the people of Amatrice, Accumoli, Arquata del Tronto and Pescara and Norcia. Again I say to those dear people that the Church shares their suffering and their concerns. We pray for the dead and the survivors ... Dear brothers and sisters, as soon as possible I hope to come to see you, to personally bring you the comfort of faith, the fatherly and brotherly embrace and support of Christian hope.
Pope Francis' first visit was to the newly constructed Capranica school, where he met with elementary and middle-school aged children, who gave him several of their handmade drawings. The Pope hugged them one-by-one and listened to their stories of the deadly earthquake in which 231 of the total 297 people died.
During his visit, Pope Francis told the residents of Amatrice, I thought long and hard in the first days of these many pains that my visit, perhaps, would be more of a hindrance than a help, a greeting. I didn’t want to be a bother so I let a little time pass, so that some things could be resolved, like the school. But from the first moment, I felt that I needed to come to you! Simply to express my closeness to you, nothing more. And I pray, pray for you! Solidarity and prayer: this is my offering to you. May the Lord bless you all; may Our Lady watch over you in this moment of sadness, pain, and trial.
After blessing them, he said, “Let’s move forward; there is always a future. There are many loved ones who have left us, who fell here under the rubble. Let us pray to Our Lady for them; let us do it together. Always look ahead. Take courage, and help each other. We walk better together, alone we go nowhere. Keep going forward! Thank you.
The Holy Father then went to the heavily damaged centre of Amatrice accompanied by the Mayor Sergio Pirozzi. There he paused for several minutes to pray.
Nearly 4,000 people are living in tents near Amatrice after their homes were destroyed in the 6.0-magnitude earthquake. Afterwards, the Pope stopped in the Saint Raphael Borbona Assisted Living Facility in Rieti while on his way to nearby Accumoli and Arquata del Tronto to bring his message of hope and solidarity to them as well.