ROME – Speaking during a visit to a city in central Italy devastated by an earthquake in 2016, Pope Francis on Sunday said he is closely following the tensions in the Middle East. His appeal for diplomacy to resolve “the complex problems” of the region came after attacks on two oil tankers in the Gulf of Oman raised flags among many in the international community.

“I invite everyone to use the instruments of diplomacy to resolve the complex problems of the conflicts in the Middle East,” he said.

“I renew a heartfelt appeal to the international community to make every possible effort to favor dialogue and peace,” he said after saying a Mass for several thousand people in Camerino, a university city in Italy’s central Marche region.

Pope Francis is offered a safety helmet as he arrives to visit the earthquake damaged Cathedral of Camerino, Italy, Sunday, June 16, 2019. The pontiff will be celebrating mass in front of the cathedral that was heavily damaged by the 2016 earthquake that hit the central Italian Marche region. (Credit: AP Photo/Gregorio Borgia.)

Though the United States claims Iran was behind Thursday’s explosions, Tehran denies the accusation.

Francis made the appeal for peace after leading those gathered in the traditional Sunday Angelus prayer.

During the Angelus the pope also noted that Thursday marks the United Nations World Refugee Day, saying: “This day invites everyone to show solidarity with the men, women and children fleeing wars, persecution and violations of fundamental rights,” he said, before urging church and civil communities to be attentive to the sufferings of refugees.

While in Camerino for his day-trip, Francis donned a white fire fighter’s helmet to visit the cathedral, which was severely damaged in the earthquake. Inside, he prayed before a statue of the Virgin Mary that had her face and hands cut in half by falling debris.

A painted sculpture of the Madonna of Mercy, dating from the 15th century and partially damaged by the 2016 earthquake, is seen inside the Cathedral of Camerino, Italy, Sunday, June 16, 2019. (Credit: AP Photo/Gregorio Borgia.)

Francis also said Sunday Mass, visited several families, met with children who are preparing to make their First Communion, and entered the city’s “red zone,” considered still too dangerous due to the risk of further collapses.

Camerino and the nearby Italian hill-towns were hit by two earthquakes, on Aug. 24 and Oct. 30 in 2016, that left nearly 300 people dead and countless buildings in ruins. At a magnitude of 6.6 on the Richter Scale they were two of the most destructive earthquakes to hit Italy in the past 30 years, with the exception of those that devastated L’Aquila in 2009.

Before the Angelus, during his homily, Francis noted that this Sunday the Church marks the feast of the Holy Trinity, which is not a “theological puzzle” but the “mystery of God’s closeness.”

God, he said, is not “up there, distant and indifferent,” but he sent the Spirit knowing that it takes “more strength to repair than to rebuild.”

Noting that almost three years have passed since the earthquake struck, he said that there’s the risk that “after the first emotional and media involvement, attention falls and promises are forgotten.” However, God “pushes us to remember, repair, rebuild, and to do so together,” he said, “without ever forgetting those who suffer.”

“I came here today to be close to you,” Francis said towards the end of his homily. “To pray with you to the God who remembers, the God of hope, the God who is close to us so that what is unstable on earth will not shake the certainty that we hold within us.”

Follow Inés San Martín on Twitter: @inesanma

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