Pope Francis has made good on a promise to go to the central Italian region hardest hit by the devastating earthquake that struck in August. He arrived Tuesday without warning to console survivors and urge them to press forward.
According to the Associated Press, the pontiff hoped to keep his visit low-key, so it wasn’t announced until after he had already arrived in Amatrice, the town devastated by the magnitude 6.2 earthquake that killed almost 300 people and left an additional 4,000 homeless.
“I didn’t come earlier so as not to cause problems, given your condition,” the pope told survivors, reported the AP, which cited Vatican Radio. “I didn’t want to be a bother.”
Pope Francis visited with schoolchildren who are still occupying makeshift classrooms, as well as firefighters and police. He also visited the red zone, an area of Amatrice that is still sealed off owing to safety concerns.
The pope urged residents to keep their spirits up. “There is always a future,” he told them.
According to the New York Times, the pontiff’s visit even caught local officials by surprise.
After visiting Amatrice, the pope traveled to the nearby towns of Accumoli and Arquata del Tronto.