Italy marks day of mourning for victims

Italy marks day of mourning for victims

Solemn mourners crowded into a large outdoor square in L’Aquila, Italy on Good Friday to attend a funeral mass for more than 200 victims of the powerful earthquake that rocked the country this week.

ABC’s Sonia Gallego, reporting from the outdoor funeral, described a long line of flower-draped caskets holding 205 of the 289 victims killed in the 6.3-magnitude quake on Monday.

“The caskets are all laid out in front of the altar occasionally dotted by smaller white caskets on top of the coffins, those being of the children who died with their parents or any other family members in Monday’s earth quake,” Gallego told CTV Newsnet.

Among the quake victims were 20 children and teenagers, with the youngest victim not yet five months old.

The smaller coffins were adorned with mementos of the children’s lives, including a toy motorcycle and a tiny infant’s T-shirt with a Tweetie Bird design.

Good Friday is normally the only day of the year that Catholics do not celebrate with Mass. But the Vatican issued a special dispensation for the Mass so that people could be buried before Easter.

A message from Pope Benedict XVI was read aloud at the ceremony. He called on the survivors to support each other through their grief.

“This is the time to work together,” he said in the message read by his secretary, Monsignor Georg Gaenswein. “Only solidarity will allow us to overcome this painful trial.”

The crowd was estimated to be in the thousands, with dignitaries, politicians, including Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi and high-ranking officials from the Vatican attending the funeral.

“How can one not be moved by so much pain?” Berlusconi said before the funeral.

Firefighters and other rescue workers stood solemnly with clasped hands.

Many of the mourners in the front row — those with the closest connections to the victims — wept openly during the ceremony, some touching the caskets of the victims, others staring blankly at the crowds.

The Pope expressed his hope to come to L’Aquila soon.

“The Pope has from the outset said he wishes to come to L’Aquila as soon as he can, but has delayed his arrival here in order not to interfere with the rescue operations that are still ongoing,” Gallego said.

In addition to those killed in the devastating quake, 40,000 people were left homeless. Many of them have been put-up in tent cities set up around the province.

The pontiff is sending chocolate Easter eggs to the tent cities for the children.

The emotional ceremony was held outdoors at a military barracks because there were no large churches in the province safe enough to enter, said Gallego.

“The reason for this being held here is that all the churches in the province are a huge danger to go into. All of them were severely affected by the earthquake and some of them are even crumbling to the ground.”

At least 20 people are still missing after the earthquake and presumed buried in the rubble.

“We will continue to dig until we have absolute certainty” that no one is alive, Fire Cmdr. Antonio Gambardella said. “But we have no illusions.”