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Pope leads 11,000 pilgrims praying rosary for quake victims


  • A man walks amid rubble following an earthquake in Amatrice, Italy, Aug. 24. (CNS photo/Remo Casilli, Reuters)
  • Bodies are seen covered following an earthquake in Amatrice, Italy, Aug. 24. (CNS photo/Remo Casilli, Reuters)
  • A man is rescued from the ruins following an earthquake in Amatrice, Italy, Aug. 24. (CNS photo/Remo Casilli, Reuters)
  • The partially damaged tower bell with the clock signaling the time of the earthquake is seen in Amatrice, Italy, Aug. 24. (CNS photo/Emiliano Grillotti, Reuters)
  • Bodies are seen covered following an earthquake in Amatrice, Italy, Aug. 24. (CNS photo/Remo Casilli, Reuters)
  • General view of collapsed houses in Pescara del Tronto, Italy, following a following an earthquake Aug. 24. (CNS photo/Cristiano Chiodi, EPA)
  • A woman sits amid rubble following a quake in Amatrice, Italy, Aug. 24. (CNS photo/Remo Casilli, Reuters)
  • Pope Francis is seen holding his rosary during his general audience in St. Peter's Square at the Vatican Aug. 24. Pope Francis put aside his prepared remarks and led a recitation of the rosary for Italy's earthquake victims. (CNS photo/L'Osservatore Romano via EPA)

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VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- After a strong earthquake struck central Italy and with the early news reporting many deaths and serious damage, Pope Francis turned his weekly general audience Aug. 24 into a prayer service.

While the pope and some 11,000 pilgrims and tourists recited the sorrowful mysteries of the rosary in St. Peter's Square, six Vatican firefighters were on their way to the town of Amatrice, about 85 miles east of Rome, to help search for victims under the rubble. The pope sent six Vatican police officers to join them the next day.

The U.S. Geological Survey said the magnitude 6.2 quake had an epicenter close to Norcia, the birthplace of St. Benedict and home to a monastery of Benedictine monks, who are attracting a growing number of visitors because of their solemn prayer life and beer brewing business. The monks and their guests were all safe, but the monastery and Basilica of St. Benedict suffered serious structural damage.

Smaller temblors -- at least two of which registered more than 5.0 -- continued even 24 hours after the main quake. By early Aug. 26, Italian officials said the death toll had reached 267, and 260 people were hospitalized with quake-related injuries. Rescuers had been able to pull 238 people out of the rubble.

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