By George Gregory
Special to The CS&T
As the universal Church honored spanine Mercy Sunday, April 19, Cardinal Justin Rigali celebrated a liturgy at the Cathedral Basilica of SS. Peter and Paul remembering earthquake victims in Abruzzo, Italy.
The 6.3 magnitude earthquake struck on Monday, April 6, and was centered in the provincial capital of L’Aquila. It was the worst earthquake experienced in that region in more than 30 years. Lives and structures throughout the medieval city were destroyed by the powerful quake and its numerous aftershocks.
With a population of more than 73,000, L’Aquila bore the brunt of the disaster that claimed almost 300 lives and injured more than 1,500. About 25,000 people are homeless and living in tent camps, and another 10,000 people are staying in hotels on the east coast by the Adriatic Sea.
At the April 19 Mass, Cardinal Rigali preached a heartfelt homily, speaking both in English and Italian, to the congregation which included numerous Italian representatives and dignitaries, as well as family and friends of people living in the earthquake zone.
“On this second Sunday of Easter, also called spanine Mercy Sunday, we come together to give praise to God for the resurrection of His Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, in whom all have the promise of eternal life,” he said. “We also come with the special intention to pray for the many victims of the earthquake in Italy and to express our desire to be of one mind and one heart with Pope Benedict XVI and the universal Church in showing solidarity and support to our brothers and sisters who are suffering so greatly.”
Cardinal Rigali urged those present to pray that God will grant eternal life to those who perished and that He will sustain all those who are in great sorrow and whose very future is in question. He emphasized the solidarity of Catholics in the Archdiocese with those affected by the tragedy and promised his continued prayers.
In attendance at the Mass were Italian ambassador to the United States Giovanni Castellaneta and Amato Berardi, who is a member of the Parliament of the Republic of Italy. Both men addressed the Cardinal and the congregants before the final blessing.
“Thank you for your generosity and good will for your brothers and sisters in Italy,” Berardi said. He has dual citizenship in Italy and in the United States, and is a parishioner of St. Albert the Great in Huntingdon Valley. He was in Rome at the time of the earthquake and felt the tremor. He remained in Italy and visited the site on Easter Sunday.
Like many of those gathered for the Mass, Berardi has family in the region. His daughter Carmelina lives in Spoleto and was uninjured by the earthquake. According to Berardi’s son, Carmen, a senior at Villanova who attended the Mass with his father, even though Carmelina lives 200 miles from the epicenter of the quake, “it still knocked pictures off her wall.”
Claudio Cifoni is a correspondent of the Consulate General of Italy in Philadelphia and a member of Presentation B.V.M. Parish in Wynnewood. He and his wife Isabella represented the Associazione Regionale Abruzzese, the largest Abruzzo related organization in the area. Their daughter Lauren lives in Teramo and was struck by a piece of furniture during the earthquake. “We told her to come home, but she wants to stay with her friends. We fear for her, but that is her choice,” Cifoni said.
Maria D’Angelo, the niece of Aldo and Mariana D’Angelo of Holy Spirit Parish in South Philadelphia, attends college in L’Aquila. The day after the quake, the D’Angelos received the call they were anticipating, telling them that their niece was safe, despite many dormitories being destroyed.
Harry Calandra, who is president of the National Center for St. Padre Pio in the Diocese of Allentown, was moved by the Cardinal’s homily.
“The Cardinal exemplified true simpatico in his beautiful words,” Calandra said. “Sharing our love for others is why we came to this beautiful Mass, and we can’t express enough gratitude.”
In his comments, Berardi encouraged those gathered to contribute to the relief efforts coordinated by the National Italian American Foundation. Carol Tamburino, who is a member of the Cathedral Parish, coordinated a reception at the Four Seasons Hotel immediately following the liturgy. The Four Seasons, together with SYSCO Foods, donated all of the food and beverages for the gathering.
Pope Benedict XVI is scheduled to visit the earthquake-ravaged area of Abruzzo on April 28.
To contribute to the earthquake relief efforts, log onto the National Italian American Foundation’s web site (www.niaf.org/relief) or mail contributions to 1860 19th Street NW, Washington, D.C., 2009.
George Gregory is a member of St. Cecilia Parish in Coatesville.