Papal message sent to Earthquake victims

As the city of L'Aquila gathered to mourn the loss of hundreds of its citizens, victims of a deadly earthquake, Benedict XVI sent a message of solidarity and hope. The Holy Father sent a letter today to the national funeral of the victims of the earthquake that hit the capital of the Abruzzo region of central Italy. Friday was declared a day of national mourning and a moment of silence was observed nationwide.

Monsignor Georg Gänswein, the Pontiff's private secretary, read the Papal message at the beginning of the funeral Mass, celebrated by Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, the Vatican secretary of state. The Vatican granted a special dispensation to hold a Mass on Good Friday, the only day of the year on which Mass is not normally said.

The coffins of 205 of the 289 confirmed victims -- many families chose to hold private ceremonies -- were aligned in four long lines, each one with a white sheet of paper indicating the name of the deceased. Twenty of the coffins were white, indicating children victims.

"In these dramatic hours," the Pope wrote in his message, "in which an immense tragedy has hit this land, I feel spiritually present among you to share your anguish, implore God for the eternal repose of the dead, the speedy recovery of the injured, and for all the ability to continue with hope, without yielding to discouragement."

"In moments such as these, faith remains as a source of light and hope, which is exactly what the suffering of the Son of God tells us in these days, who made himself man for us," the Holy Father continued. "May his passion, death and resurrection be for all a source of consolation, and may it open the heart of each one to the contemplation of that life in which 'death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning nor crying nor pain any more, for the former things have passed away.'"

Benedict XVI said he was pleased to see "a growing wave of solidarity" with the victims: "The Holy See intends to do its part, together with the parishes, religious institutes and lay groups. This is the moment of commitment, in harmony with the agencies of the government, which are already operating admirably."

"Only solidarity can succeed in overcoming such painful trials," concluded the message.

Mystery of death

During the funeral Mass, Cardinal Bertone said that the mystery of death "brings us together, makes us kneel before God, makes us adore his will, immerses us in his eternal love, because in God is the source of life, the meaning and the value of our life."

"Before this mystery, which frightens us, grieves us, we feel, however, that not everything has ended," he said. "So we are here to pray to the author of life, sustained by the certainty, as the word of God affirms, that the souls of the just are in the hands of the good and merciful God."

The cardinal said that a tragedy such as the one that hit L'Aquila is a "valuable occasion to understand the value and true meaning of life.

"In a second, everything can cease -- dreams, plans, hopes. Everything ends; love alone remains. God alone remains who is Love," he added.

Cardinal Bertone said that "in this hour of sorrow and of profound loss, it is the Word of God that sustains our faith, that comforts us and assures us that nothing can conquer the force of love."

"God might seem absent," he said. "Sorrow might seem a cruel force without meaning, the darkness of eyes full of tears seem to extinguish even the most timid rays of sun and springtime.

"Nevertheless, it is precisely while the provocative question is posed: 'Where is your God' (Psalm 42:4) that we feel emerge from our innermost being the certainty of God's loving intervention."

The cardinal urged the faithful to start afresh "bearing together the sorrow of the incommensurable absence of the deceased, with a more assiduous, fraternal and friendly presence near their families, now become more genuinely our families, in the great family of the children of God."