Pope John Paul II
Visits Earthquake Region

    Pope John Paul II announced on Christmas Day that he will visit the regions of central Italy that have been damaged by repeated earthquakes since September 26 (see story below). He will visit Assisi on January 3, to, in his words, "embrace all those who are suffering from the earthquake." His plans include a visit to the damaged Basilica of St. Francis in Assisi, where he will greet the community and pray in an undamaged portion of the basilica. He will then travel a few miles further to visit tent and trailer camps outside two heavily damaged mountain villages in the March region. Click here to see photos of the earthquake damage.

Earthquakes Jolt Assisi

    (Last updated November 3, 1997)

    The Franciscan world was stunned September 26 by the news that two earthquakes in central Italy left 10 people dead, including two Franciscan friars in Assisi, and inflicted serious damage on parts of the famed Basilica of St. Francis (file photos shown here).

    Extensive damage was inflicted upon other pilgrimage sites in Assisi, according to a communique from the Order of Friars Minor.

    Quakes continued to strike the region throughout October, further damaging the basilica and other buildings and injuring 20 people in the region, according to news reports. The region was still struggling to cope with the first quakes, which had left more than 5,000 people homeless. It is estimated that up to 42,000 people in Umbria and Marche regions had been sleeping outside after the first quakes.

    An October 31 letter to pilgrims from Franciscan Pilgrimage Programs in Milwaukee explains that pilgrims are being asked to come to Asissi to join in the rebuilding effort.

    During the first quakes on September 26, the two friars were killed along with two art experts when part of the vaulted ceiling of the 13th century basilica, containing precious frescoes, crashed to the floor. More sections of plaster fell during later quakes, according to news reports.

    The Basilica of St. Francis, which has housed the tomb of St. Francis (left) since 1230, is a popular pilgrimage destination and tourist attraction. St. Francis of Assisi (1182-1226) is the founder of the Franciscan Order and one of the world's most popular saints. He is admired for his love of the poor and his respect for animals and the whole of creation.

    Among the art treasures destroyed September 26 was the well-known fresco of a crucifix by the early Italian master Cimabue, who also painted the famous fresco of St. Francis pictured here. That fresco (right), on a lower floor, was not damaged. Fortunately, the 28-fresco series on the life of St. Francis by Giotto in the upper church survived, but sustained at least minor damage.

    Leaders of four major Franciscan Orders issued a joint communique expressing sorrow, appealing for solidarity and announcing plans for a simplified observance of the Feast of St. Francis October 4. Another statement was issued October 4 by those leaders and others who had gathered to pray at Assisi.

    The Order of Friars Minor homepage has firsthand reports and ongoing coverage of earthquake developments.

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