AMATRICE, Italy — As Pope Francis pledged Sunday to visit an Italian zone devastated by a magnitude 6.2 earthquake that left a reported 290 people dead, saying he will bring survivors “the comfort of the faith,” a Mass was celebrated for victims in a tent underneath a makeshift cross constructed out of two fire ladders and the helmets of rescue workers.
The Sunday Mass in Arquata del Tronto had to be held in the tent because of the massive damage inflicted on churches in the area.
Bishop Giovanni D’Ercole, who was in nearby L’Aquila when a major quake struck there in 2009, told the worshippers that he knew from personal experience that “the worst is yet to come.” He urged them to be courageous.
A spokesman for firefighters says that rescue workers have found six bodies over the past two days from the rubble of Amatrice, the hardest hit of three towns struck by the recent earthquake in Italy.
Luca Cari says three of those bodies have been recovered and three others are stuck in a place that is hard for workers to safely reach and that it will still take more time to recover them.
All the bodies were found in the rubble of Hotel Roma.
Cari told The Associated Press that the workers are now “clearing the pathways so that our men are safe from possible collapses.”
There are 290 confirmed deaths from Wednesday’s 6.2 quake. It wasn’t immediately clear if the newly discovered bodies are included in that official toll.
Firefighters are entering earthquake-damaged homes in Italy to retrieve a few items cherished by their owners, hoping it will give comfort to those who have lost homes and loved ones.
The areas devastated by Wednesday’s quake are now sealed off in “red zones” and inaccessible to former residents. But firefighters are entering the homes wherever possible to retrieve items such as photographs.
Francesco Turco, a spokesman for firefighters, told The Associated Press that the firefighters are doing what they can for the earthquake survivors “because for them, even sometimes recovering a photo, or a special object makes the difference.”
Officials with the Civil Protection agency gave the 290 figure during a televised news conference Sunday.
The agency, which combines the figures it receives from different provinces affected by the quake, said the number is lower than the previous toll of 291 dead due to a correction in the numbers from the province of Rieti, where most of the victims died.
Pope Francis says he plans to visit an area in Italy struck by a deadly earthquake to bring the people there the “comfort of faith.”
Francis on Sunday also led prayers for the inhabitants of an area struck by the powerful earthquake Wednesday that killed at least 291 people. Italy’s central Apennine mountains are a seismically active region that has suffered other earthquake tragedies in the past.
Francis told the crowd at his weekly Sunday address at St. Peter’s Square: “Again I tell those dear populations that the church shares their suffering.”
He said he plans to visit as soon as possible but did not specify a date.
Italian authorities have opened investigations into the massive destruction wrought by the latest earthquake, seeking to determine if anyone bears criminal guilt for failing to ensure building safety standards in the seismically risky area.
The investigation will focus on a number of structures, including an elementary school in Amatrice that crumbled when the quake hit Wednesday. The school was renovated in 2012 to resist earthquakes at a cost of 700,000 euros ($785,000).
Questions also surround a bell tower in Accumoli that collapsed, killing a family of four, including a baby of 8 months and a 7-year-old boy. That bell tower had been recently restored with special funds allocated after Italy’s last major earthquake in 2009.
Giuseppe Saieva, the prosecutor in Rieti, capital of the province that includes Amatrice and Accumoli, says the high human death toll “cannot only be considered the work of fate.”
Italy’s state museums are donating their proceeds Sunday to relief and reconstruction efforts in the area devastated by an earthquake.
The 6.2 magnitude quake on Wednesday flattened three medieval towns in central Italy, destroying not only private homes but also churches and other centuries-old cultural treasures.
The idea is to use art for art — harnessing the nation’s rich artistic heritage to help recover and restore other objects of beauty in the towns flattened by the tremor.
Culture Minster Dario Franceschini appealed to Italians to “go to the museum in a sign of solidarity with people affected by the earthquake.” The appeal on Twitter is at #museums4italy.
It’s one of several efforts that have sprung up to help the towns rebuild.
The pre-dawn earthquake Wednesday killed 290 people and injured hundreds in central Italy. The number of missing is still uncertain, due to the many visitors seeking a last taste of summer in the Apennine mountains.
Amatrice bore the brunt of destruction, with 230 fatalities and a town turned to rubble. Eleven others died in nearby Accumoli and 50 more in Arquata del Tronto, 10 miles (16 kilometers) north of Amatrice.
Overnight into Sunday morning was relatively calm, the first since the quake struck without strong aftershocks. In all, the region has seen 1,820 aftershocks, according to the National Institute of Geophysics and Volcanology.
Mourners in Italy prayed, hugged, wept and even applauded as 35 coffins carrying earthquake victims passed by at a state funeral in the town of Ascoli Piceno.
Emotions that had been dammed up for days broke in a crescendo of grief on Saturday. One young man wept over a little girl’s white coffin. Another woman gently stroked another small casket. Many mourners were recovering from injuries themselves, some wrapped in bandages. Everywhere people knelt at coffins, tears running down their cheeks, their arms around loved ones.
“It is a great tragedy. There are no words to describe it,” said Gina Razzetti, a resident at the funeral. “Each one of us has our pain inside. We are thinking about the families who lost relatives, who lost their homes, who lost everything.”
The pre-dawn earthquake on Wednesday killed 291 people, injured hundreds and flattened three medieval-era towns in central Italy.