Officers stand near a cross that fell from a church in Crevalcore near Bologna, Italy, May 20. A strong earthquake rocked a large portion of northern Italy early that day, killing at least seven people and causing serious damage to centuries-old cultural sites. CNS photo/Reuters

Church offers aid, prayers to people left homeless by Italy earthquake

By  Catholic News Service
  • May 22, 2012

BOLOGNA, Italy - Church agencies stepped up efforts to support local parishes providing assistance to nearly 5,000 people left homeless by a magnitude 6 earthquake in northern Italy.

Caritas Italy, part of the Catholic church's international aid network, was among the first agencies to respond May 20 by sending staff to the affected communities about 22 miles north of Bologna.

The Italian government was assessing damage May 21 and considered declaring a state of emergency.

At least seven people were killed in the disaster, which struck one of Italy's most historic areas. Two of the people died in a factory, which collapsed as workers arrived for the early morning shift.

Francesco Soddu, director of Caritas Italy, traveled to the region hours after the earthquake caused homes and buildings to collapse in the pre-dawn hours, according to a posting on the agency's website.

"We're close to the people in prayer and to particular the families of the victims. We will support the local church in providing aid," he said.

Soddu discussed the agency's response with local Caritas staff, including the directors of Caritas Emilia-Romagna, Modena and Bologna and Archbishop Paolo Rabitti of Ferrara-Comacchio. Local Caritas staff members were prepared to provide shelter and first aid.

Pope Benedict XVI prayed for the victims after reciting the "Regina Coeli" prayer with those gathered in St. Peter's Square May 20.

"I am spiritually close to those hit by this calamity," the Pope said.

The earthquake was the worst in Italy since the L'Aquila tremor killed nearly 300 people in central Italy in 2009.

Culture Minister Lorenzo Ornaghi told reporters it was too early to give a full assessment of damage, but that a list of heritage sites affected in the Emilia Romagna region was being compiled. La Rocca Castle in San Felice sul Panaro and a 14th-century clock tower in Finale Emilia were destroyed.

Several historic churches also were destroyed or seriously damaged.

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