Pope’s visit to L’Aquila ‘rebuilding connections and hope’

Ahead of Pope Francis’ pastoral visit on Sunday to L’Aquila, Chiara Martelli describes the effects of the devastating 2009 earthquake and says the Pope can help bring hope and improve relationships in the central Italian city.

By Devin Watkins

Chiara Martelli was 19-years-old when her life—along with the lives of most of the people she knew—was changed forever.

At 3:32 AM on 6 April 2009, a 6.3-magnitude earthquake tore through L’Aquila, a city then with around 130,000 residents in the central Italian region of Abruzzo. Around 66,000 people were left homeless, and 309 people were killed.

“I was in my bed,” says Ms. Martelli,” and the earthquake hit very suddenly.”

L’Aquilan lives shaped in a single night

Speaking to Vatican News’ Jean-Charles Putzolu, she counts herself lucky, since most of her close friends and family escaped the worst of the damage and death.

Yet, she adds, life for everyone in L’Aquila changed completely in the wake of that night over 13 years ago.

“Our life, and the city’s life, was really shaped by what happened. Every one of us, even if not deeply affected personally by the damage of the earthquake, was really changed because of it.”

Chiara attributes her choices and actions after 2009 as impacted by that event.

“I left L’Aquila, and decided to study abroad,” she says. “My whole life is now dedicated to helping other people. And I think this is somehow connected to what I experienced and lived through in the earthquake and the reconstruction.”

Making the most after tragedy

After living abroad in a “normal city” for over a year after the earthquake, Ms. Martelli returned to L’Aquila for a visit and was shocked by the remains of the devastation.

“I was shocked. The reconstruction in the first years was really hard, because there was a social net to rebuild. I think that was the hardest part.”

Up to 11,000 buildings were severely damaged in the medieval part of the city, and several buildings collapsed.

The Catholic Cathedral of St. Maximus still lies in ruins, and reconstruction work has yet to begin.

“It really affected my life,” says Chiara. “I feel that everything can suddenly change and we have to be ready for it. You have to live every day as if it were your last, so it has to be meaningful.”

Pope brings hope and rebuild relationships

Pope Francis travels to L’Aquila for a pastoral visit on Sunday morning, where his first stop takes him to the ruins of the Cathedral.

He will celebrate Mass for the city’s residents at the Basilica of Collemaggio.

The Pope also opens the Holy Door of the Basilica to begin the annual celebration of the Celestinian Pardon, which Pope Celestine V declared in 1294.

Ms. Martelli says Pope Francis’ brief visit can help contribute to the process of rebuilding her hometown.

“It can definitely bring hope; it can bring connection and a sense of community, with people gathering to see him, along with a sense of hope and reconciliation.”

Listen to the full interview
27 August 2022, 16:22