"The Lord Has Not Abandoned You"
Of course, yesterday's big story took place some 60 miles from Rome as the Pope went to bring solace and hope to Abruzzo, where hundreds were killed, thousands injured and displaced after the 6.3 magnitude Holy Week earthquake rocked the region in Italy's worst natural disaster in three decades.
The scene, from CNS' brief:
With the sun struggling to break through thick rain clouds, the pope told survivors it had been his desire to come see them from the very moment the earthquake struck this mountainous central Italian region April 6.
"I would have liked to have gone to every town and every neighborhood, to all the tent cities and to have met everyone if it had been possible," he said under drizzling rain in the makeshift tent encampment a few miles outside L'Aquila....
"Dear friends, my presence among you is meant to be a tangible sign that the crucified and risen Lord has not abandoned you," he said.
He said God is present and not deaf to their cries for help and their worries after having lost their homes, savings, jobs and loved ones.
The pope said those who lost their lives are with God and that they would want to see their surviving friends and relatives go forward with courage and hope.
The outpouring of help and support cannot end with just emergency aid, he said.
Efforts must continue and "become a steady and concrete project" so that the city and surrounding towns can rise again, he said.
The pope expressed his concern for the many young people who have been "suddenly forced to tackle a harsh reality," children who can no longer go to school and elderly deprived of their homes.
When the pope finished his remarks, he warmly greeted residents and aid workers. Mothers brought their babies and toddlers to the pope to be blessed.
The pope then rode through the devastated village across a freshly graveled road in a white civil defense minibus....
The pope then went on to L'Aquila to visit the severely damaged Basilica of Santa Maria di Collemaggio.
Surrounded by firefighters wearing helmets, the pope went through the basilica's holy door to venerate the remains of St. Celestine V, a 13th-century pope who abdicated just a few months after his election....
Heaps of debris were still sitting on the floor inside the basilica, and the pope asked the parish priest, "It all collapsed?" The priest replied that it did.
Firefighters warned the papal entourage that it was too dangerous to linger inside.
The pope was visibly taken aback by the level of destruction.
Father Nunzio Spinelli, the basilica's rector, said the pope told him, "Now that I have seen the damage with my own eyes I can see that it is even worse than I imagined."
The pope then visited the site of a university dormitory that collapsed and claimed eight students' lives.
He met with about a dozen students, blessing them and talking with them. He urged them to continue with their studies because "it's for your future."
The pope told those who were majoring in engineering to help the town build good homes.
Independent investigators are studying why so many recently built buildings gave way during the quake. There have been accusations of builders using shoddy construction materials and not following building codes.
The pope called for everyone "to make a serious examination of conscience" and take responsibility for his or her actions now and in the future.
He also called for an appropriate solution to be found soon for the thousands of people still living in tents.
The pope made the comments during an outdoor gathering at a military school and barracks just outside L'Aquila. It was the same courtyard where a funeral Mass was celebrated April 10 for some 200 victims of the quake.On a side-note, as previously noted B16 paid homage before the remains of St Celestine V -- the last Roman pontiff to resign the office -- which are kept at the L'Aquila basilica.
To an audience that included local bishops, religious men and women, government authorities, aid workers, rescuers and survivors, the pope said he was deeply moved by their hospitality.
He praised their unified and well-coordinated efforts not only for dealing with the disaster and its aftermath quickly and efficiently, but also for having been motivated by love.
Emergency efforts should never just be a well-oiled machine, he said, but should display "soul and passion."
Solidarity with those in crisis gives a sign of hope amid the darkness "like a burning ember hidden beneath the ashes," he said.
Though the Vatican noted in advance that Benedict would place a "papal pallium" before Celestine's glass casket as a sign of respect, only yesterday did it become clear that the Pope had chosen to leave behind (above) the now-discarded incarnation of the woolen band envisioned by the longtime overseer of papal liturgy Archbishop Piero Marini, who aimed to "restore" the garment's ancient, longer form on the installation of the successor of John Paul II.
After two decades at the pontiff's left hand, Marini was transferred from the Office of Papal Liturgical Celebrations in 2007. Shortly thereafter, his successor Msgr Guido Marini -- no relation -- designed a new "papal pallium" of his own, which Benedict first donned at last year's celebrations for the solemnity of Saints Peter and Paul.
PHOTOS: Getty(1,2); Reuters(3)