During the Angelus of August 28th Pope Francis announced that he would go to visit the earthquake victims in Lazio, Umbria and delle Marche “as soon as possible”, to bring them in person “the comfort of the faith, a fatherly and brotherly embrace and the support of Christian hope.”
That “as soon as possible” is not connected to the Pope’s agenda, which would be to go there immediately, as much as to avoid his presence being an obstacle to the work of the firemen, the civil defense and the police force. As Andrea Tornielli recalls, John Paul II’s blitz 48 hours after the quake which hit Campania and Basilicata on November 23rd 1980, resulted in heated polemics. There were those who said that John Paul II had obstructed the rescue work and distracted the police force from other more urgent tasks. Benedict XVI, in contrast, waited 22 days before visiting Aquila devastated by the quake of April 6th 2009, and 36 days before going to Emilia, after the earthquake of May 20th 2012.
The choice to put off the visit appears therefore opportune for various reasons. In the first weeks immediately after the catastrophe, the earthquake victims need material help most of all. It is in the following months, when their situation doesn’t make the news headlines anymore, that they feel abandoned and need spiritual and moral support. And nobody, more than the Pope, can bring this help which consists mainly in remembering that everything in the Christian life has significance, even the worst catastrophes.
This is the answer that needs to be given to those, like Eugenio Scalfari, who, in La Repubblica of August 28th pontificates about the earthquake in Amatrice as well as all the other evils in the world, asking himself the whys — not only of the quake that has ravaged central Italy — but of the chaos which is ravaging the world — looking for the answer in the cosmic pessimism of Leopardi+.
It is necessary also to avoid the inevitable accusations of protagonism ready to be hurled at those too fond of the limelight, like Pope Francis, who a few days ago was busy with a film shooting in the Vatican Gardens, connected, it seems, to the portraying of himself in a film, despite the fact that the Vatican last February had denied Pope Francis’ intention of being an actor.
It is true however, that the tragedy of the earthquake has become part of a tempestuous international scenario. The front pages of newspapers over the past two weeks were practically exclusively devoted to news about the quake in Italy and little import to some other disturbing information, like the invitation from the German government (to its citizens) to stock up on water and food in anticipation of an eventual national emergency.
The faithful also expect the Pope to recall that material disasters destroy bodies, but that there are more violent spiritual and moral cataclysms which sweep away souls; and it is the Catholic Church itself that is being shaken up today, internally, by an earthquake.
On the Internet a photo is circulating of a statute of Our Lady miraculously remaining intact amid the rubble of a church in Arquata del Tronto.
Invocations to Our Lady have multiplied among the earthquake victims and Antonio Socci has made himself spokesman of a request to Cardinal Bagnasco on behalf of some Italian Catholics, to renew the Consecration of Italy to the Immaculate Heart of Mary.
Yet, there was not even any room for Our Lady at a ‘Meeting’ stand in Rimini, and Marian devotion is incompatible with the Muslim and Protestant ecumenical embrace.