.- Sunday Pope Francis expressed his nearness to everyone affected by an earthquake which hit central Italy Sunday morning, asking for the Blessed Virgin Mary to watch over them.
“I express my closeness to the central Italy earthquake victims,” he said after the Angelus Oct. 30. “Even this morning there was a strong shock. I pray for the injured and for the families that have suffered major damage, as well as for the personnel involved in rescue and assistance.”
“The Risen Lord give them strength and Our Lady guard them,” he said.
The Pope’s prayer was made after an earthquake hit central Italy around 7:40 am local time Oct. 30. According to BBC News, the quake, which hit near the town of Norcia, had a magnitude of 6.6, larger than the 6.2-magnitude quake which hit near the towns of Norcia and Amatrice on Aug. 24.
At a depth of .9 miles, tremors were felt in the capital of Rome and as far north as Venice. A number of injuries have been reported, but so far there have been no deaths. Many locals were evacuated from Norcia after two smaller earthquakes occurred there Oct. 26.
Damage to buildings, however, has been extensive. The Basilica of St. Benedict in Norcia, which according to tradition is built over the site of the birthplace of Saints Benedict and Scholastica, has been destroyed, according to the Benedictine Monks who reside there.
Rome’s basilicas of St. Paul Outside the Walls and St. Lawrence both experienced some minor damage, according to the Italian news agency, ANSA. St. Paul Outside the Walls is currently closed for inspection of the damage.
The Pope’s message for the Angelus centered on the day’s Gospel on the tax collector Zacchaeus, a “public sinner,” who cannot get close to Jesus and so instead climbs a tree in order to see him.
“When he gets close to that tree,” Pope Francis said,” Jesus looks up and tells him, ‘Zacchaeus, come down quickly, for today I must stay at your house.’”
“We can imagine the astonishment of Zacchaeus!” But why does Jesus say he must stay at Zacchaeus’ house? What is his duty? the Pope asked.
The highest duty of Jesus, Pope Francis explained, is his death and resurrection, the fulfillment of the Father’s plan for humanity.
The salvation of humanity takes place through the Father’s mercy, the same salvation which is given to Zacchaeus, “a dishonest man,” who is “despised by all, and therefore in need of conversion,” the Pope noted.
But, “the gaze of Jesus goes beyond sins and prejudices,” he said. “He sees the person with the eyes of God, who does not stop at the bad past, but distinguishes a good future.”
“He is not resigned to closures, but opens up new areas of life; He does not stop at appearances, but looks at the heart,” Francis continued.
Sometimes we try to correct and convert sinners by scolding them for their mistakes, the Pope said. Instead, the attitude of Jesus and Zacchaeus shows us another way. The way of showing the sinner his or her value, “the value that God continues to see in spite of everything.”
“This may cause a positive surprise, which softens the heart and drives a person to bring out the good that he has within himself,” he said. “It is giving confidence to people that makes them grow and change.” This is how God treats all of us – overcoming our sin with his love.
After the Angelus, Pope Francis also asked pilgrims for prayers for his apostolic trip to Sweden for the commemoration of the Reformation, to take place Oct. 31 and Nov. 1. “I ask you all to pray that this trip is a new stage in the path of fraternity toward full communion,” he said.
“May the Virgin Mary help us to see the good that there is in the people we meet every day, so everyone is encouraged to bring out the image of God imprinted in their hearts,” Pope Francis said. “So we can rejoice in the surprises of God’s mercy!”