VATICAN CITY (RNS) While Pope Francis has expressed his sympathy for the victims of Italy’s devastating earthquake, few may have realized the pontiff himself was shaken by the 6.2 magnitude temblor as he slept at his residence inside the walls of the Vatican.
Bishop Domenico Pompili of Rieti, which is close to the medieval towns most affected by the quake, said the pope had telephoned him three times since Wednesday (Aug. 24) to ask about the victims and their families.
More than 290 people were killed when houses and buildings collapsed in the towns north of Rome.
During one of the calls Francis disclosed that the shock waves woke him 100 miles away.
“He told me he had felt the earthquake,” Pompili told the Italian daily Corriere della Sera. “He had woken up, was informed and celebrated Mass for us at 4 a.m.”
Francis led prayers for the quake victims at the Vatican on Sunday (Aug. 28) and announced plans to visit survivors in the affected area soon.
“He feels very upset,” Pompili said. “He came to this area a couple of times, almost anonymously, in January and July. He loves us.”
Pompili, who was appointed by Francis in 2015, said the pope had also called him during the rescue operations to find out how many children were trapped and how many had been saved.
Italian media reports said the pope did not want to interfere with the emergency operations led by the civil protection department and was expected to visit the area before the Jubilee Year of Mercy ended on November 20.
“I hope to come to see you as soon as possible, to bring you in person the comfort of the faith, the embrace of a father and a brother, and the support of Christian hope,” the pope said in remarks at the noontime Angelus prayer at the Vatican on Sunday.
In a related development, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg met with Francis at the Vatican on Monday and afterward announced that Facebook will give 500,000 euros, or about $560,000, to the Italian Red Cross to help relief efforts in the earthquake-stricken region north of Rome.
He said the money would be in the form of advertising credits that can be used on the Facebook platform to promote fundraising, organize volunteers, solicit blood donations, and to help people who need accommodations.
Italy held a day of national mourning for the quake victims Saturday.
The president, Sergio Mattarella, and the prime minister, Matteo Renzi, joined hundreds at a state funeral in Ascoli Piceno to mourn 35 of the victims, including an 18-month-old baby, while flags flew at half-staff across the country.
More funerals were due to be held in the devastated town of Amatrice on Tuesday evening.
(Josephine McKenna covers the Vatican for RNS)