CARPI, Italy (AP) — Greeted by tens of thousands of faithful, Pope Francis on Sunday visited a region of Italy that has largely been rebuilt after a pair of deadly earthquakes five years ago, an example meant to give hope to another part of the country still reeling from more devastating temblors last year.
Francis' first stop in Emilia Romagna was the quake-damaged Duomo cathedral of Carpi, where he laid a bouquet of white flowers at the foot of a statue of the Madonna. After years of restoration, the cathedral reopened just last weekend.
"There are those who remain buried in the rubble of life," the pope said in his homily before an estimated 20,000 gathered in the piazza outside the cathedral for an open-air Mass and another 50,000 who watched on large screens throughout the city. "And there are those, like you, who with the help of God rise from the rubble to rebuild."
He later visited the town of Mirandola, where the crowd including family members of people killed in a pair of 2012 earthquakes. Francis laid a bouquet of flowers at the altar of the cathedral, which is still under scaffolding five years after the quake and not functioning as a house of worship.
He thanked the people of Mirandola "for the example you gave to all humanity, the example of courage to go ahead."
The Emilia Romagna model of rebuilding from the magnitude-6.1 and magnitude-5.8 quakes that killed 28 people has often been cited as exemplary. It included bringing together politicians, entrepreneurs and bishops to decide common priorities.
The papal visit was meant to show gratitude for the region's renewal, the bishop of Carpi, Monsignor Francesco Cavina, told the Italian Bishops' Conference television TV2000. But Cavina said it also aimed to be "a sign of hope that rebuilding is possible for the people of central Italy, who unfortunately suffered what we did much more dramatically."
A magnitude-6.1 quake on Aug. 24 in Italy's central regions of Umbria, Abruzzo and Marche killed nearly 300 people, toppled churches, historic buildings and museums, and rendered many town centers uninhabitable.
It was followed by a series of quakes in October, including the strongest in Italy in nearly four decades at magnitude 6.6, that damaged a higher number of structures, but didn't provoke further deaths since the most vulnerable areas had already been evacuated.
Authorities have estimated the damage from the 2016 central Italian quakes at more than 23.5 billion euros ($25 billion), compared with 13.5 billion euros from the 2012 Emilia Romagna temblors.
Barry reported from Milan.