Greeted by tens of thousands of faithful, Pope Frances on Sunday visited Italy's northern Emilia Romagna region that has largely rebuilt from pair of deadly quakes five years ago, an example meant to give hope to central Italy, which is still reeling from more devastating temblors last year.
Francis' first stop 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 inside. 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 there are those, like you, who with the help of God rise from the rubble to rebuild."
Another 50,000 people watched the Mass on large screens throughout the city of 70,000.
During his daylong visit, the pope also will meet with families who lost loved ones in the quake and hold a discussion with priests, nuns and seminarians.
The Emilia Romagna model of rebuilding after the magnitude-6.1 and magnitude-5.8 quakes that killed 28 people in 2012 has often been cited as exemplary. It included bringing together politicians, entrepreneurs and bishops to decide common priorities.
The papal visit was meant to give a sign of gratitude for the rebuilding, the archbishop of Carpi, Monsignor Francesco Cavina, told the Italian Bishops' Conference television TV2000. But he said it's also "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 thousands of buildings including 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 toppled and 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.