September 12, 2016

After a strong earthquake struck central Italy, Pope Francis turned his weekly general audience Aug. 24 into a prayer service.

The pope and some 11,000 pilgrims and tourists recited the sorrowful mysteries of the rosary in St. Peter's Square, hours after the magnitude 6.2 quake struck close to Norcia, the birthplace of St. Benedict and home to a monastery of Benedictine monks.

When Pope Francis arrived in St. Peter's Square for his general audience just six hours after the main quake, he set aside his prepared audience talk.

He instead spoke of his "heartfelt sorrow and my closeness" to everyone in the earthquake zone, especially those who lost loved ones.

"Having heard the mayor of Amatrice say, 'The town no longer exists,' and knowing that there are children among the dead, I am deeply saddened," he said.

Assuring the people in the region of the prayers and "embrace of the whole Church," the pope asked the crowd at the audience to join him in praying that "the Lord Jesus, who is always moved by human suffering, would console the brokenhearted and give them peace."

Bishop Domenico Pompili of Rieti, the diocese that includes Amatrice, said he received a phone call from Pope Francis at 7 a.m. the morning of the earthquake.

The quake and first big aftershock were felt in Rome and woke the pope up, he said. Pope Francis said he had celebrated Mass for the victims shortly after 4:30 a.m.