PRIESTS in central Italy have been told to hold mass outdoors after the most powerful earthquake to hit the country for 36 years left 15,000 people homeless and hundreds of buildings ruined or rendered unsafe after it struck on Sunday.
The town of Norcia was close to the epicentre of the 6.6-magnitude earthquake, which levelled buildings, and injured 20 people, but no one was killed. The region has been on high alert since an earthquake in August killed 300 people (News, 26 August).
The Archbishop of Perugia-Cittá della Pieve, Cardinal Gualtiero Bassetti, advised priests not to gather their congregations inside church buildings after the earthquake, before All Saints’ Day services on Tuesday.
Italy’s civil protection agency has reported that although no one died in the tremors, 15,000 were in need of temporary accommodation.
Tremors were felt as far away as Rome, where cracks appeared in the ancient Papal Basilica of St Paul outside the Walls.
Churches in Norcia, including the medieval Basilica of St Benedict, and the Cathedral of St Mary Argentea, known for its 15th-century frescoes, were among the hundreds of buildings ruined or rendered unsafe by the earthquake.
Nuns and monks rushed into the piazza outside the cathedral as the ground shook, the ceiling cracked, and cupboards crashed to the floor.
“Seeing the basilica collapse was truly sad, like cutting a story: here it ends,” one of the nuns, 72-year-old Sister Caterina, told AP. “But how do we start again?”
The same area struck on Sunday had suffered aftershocks from August’s earthquake just last week. After those tremors, the Suffragan Bishop in Europe, the Rt Revd David Hamid, sent a message to Christians in Italy, assuring them of his prayers.
The string of earthquakes that has struck central Italy in recent years has left the country’s soul “unsettled”, the Prime Minister, Matteo Renzi, said. It was, however, an “enormous relief” that this time no one was killed.
The lack of fatalities has been attributed to the prompt evacuation of residents after the aftershocks last week.