Pope offered his prayers for the victims of Italian earthquake

Vatican City, April 07, 2009 - Just hours after an earthquake hit the city and province of L'Aquila in central Italy, causing dozens of deaths and major damage to churches and other buildings, Pope Benedict XVI offered his prayers for the dead, their loved ones and rescue workers.

The quake struck April 6 at 3:30 a.m. local time and was felt strongly even in Rome, about 70 miles west of L'Aquila.

Among the victims was Abbess Gemma Antonucci, head of the Poor Clares' cloister of St. Clare in Paganica, outside L'Aquila.

Father Dionisio Rodriguez Cuartas, the pastor in Paganica and director of Caritas L'Aquila, said the roof of the Poor Clares convent caved in. As of midday April 6 rescue workers were still trying to free another of the nuns, he told SIR, the news agency of the Italian bishops' conference.

Italy's interior minister, Roberto Maroni, said at least 50 people died, including several children, throughout the region.

In a telegram to Archbishop Giuseppe Molinari of L'Aquila, the Vatican secretary of state said Pope Benedict had asked him to convey his "participation in the pain of the dear population struck by this tragic event."

"In assuring fervid prayers for the victims, particularly the children, His Holiness invokes the Lord to comfort the families, and while he addresses affectionate words of encouragement to the survivors and those involved in the rescue operations, he sends all a special apostolic blessing," Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone told the archbishop.


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