At least 120 people have died and hundreds have been injured in an earthquake in central Italy, as three towns were reduced to rubble early Wednesday; and the death toll is likely to rise as rescue workers work to dig out survivors. The small mountain of Amatrice “is no more,” according to the city’s Mayor Sergio Pirozzi. Only the clock tower remains standing; the town’s homes were reduced to rubble, crumbling around the sleeping townsfolk. At CBS News, one commenter compared the destruction to Dante’s inferno. In Rome, buildings rocked and rolled in the 6.2 magnitude quake at 3:36 a.m. and in more than 40 aftershocks which followed.

At the Vatican, Pope Francis offered prayers on behalf of those who have died and those who are injured–setting aside his planned remarks at the Wednesday General Audience and instead leading the pilgrims gathered in St. Peter’s Square in a recitation of the Sorrowful Mysteries of the Rosary. Speaking about the earthquake, Pope Francis said, “Having heard the mayor of Amatrice say, ‘The town no longer exists,’ and knowing that there are children among the dead, I am deeply saddened.”

To help with the rescue efforts, the pope dispatched one-sixth of the Vatican’s tiny fire brigade to the demolished town of Amatrice. The Vatican has only 37 firefighters in all; six of them joined teams of rescue workers and equipment at the heart of the earthquake zone. They’ll assist in the race to dig out survivors with bulldozers, shovels and bare hands.

One of the cities which was severely damaged by the earthquake and its aftershocks is Norcia, home to the Benedictine Monks of Norcia, a religious order known for their music and their beer. The monastery is located above the fifth century ruins of the house of St. Benedict and his twin sister St. Scholastica, and has been home to monastic communities since the tenth century A.D.

The monks report that no one in their community has been seriously injured, but their buildings–especially their basilica–have sustained a lot of damage. “It will take some time,” they write,

“…to assess the extent of the damage, but it is very sad to see the many beautiful restorations we’ve made to St. Benedict’s birthplace reduced, in a moment, to disrepair.”

And after assessing the situation, the Monks of Norcia have now determined that for the time being, they should return to their quarters in Rome. The community has issued a bulletin explaining that decision:

 

 

Dear Friends,

After a careful study of the developing seismic situation in our region of Italy, as a precautionary measure, we have decided to transfer our community to Rome.

The monks of the international Benedictine headquarters at St. Anselmo in Rome have kindly offered our monks a place to remain during this period of uncertainty. We would be grateful if you added the monks of St. Anselmo to your prayers for their generosity during our time of need.

While the community is in Rome, two monks will remain in Norcia to keep watch over the basilica and monitor the developing situation. They will avoid danger by sleeping in tents outside the city walls.

We strive to maintain the order of the Rule even during the most difficult of circumstances, and this transfer, while disruptive, will ensure the safety of our monks and grant us all the peace to continue to practice our monastic life.

Please continue to pray for our community, and consider giving a gift (https://en.nursia.org/donations/) to help our effort to rebuild.

The Monks of Norcia

The following video shows the Monks of Norcia at a happier time, as well as the beautiful region surrounding their monastery–the area which has now been severely damaged by the earthquake.

Image:  Church of St. Benedict in Norcia (Wikimedia Commons)