“Despite the difficulties, disappointments and frustrations of the past years Easter sends us a message of hope, of recovered confidence because the rubble – that still surrounds us – can tempt us to look downwards and not upwards. The Lord exhorts us to look Upwards always, in all circumstances.”
For the archbishop of Spoleto-Norcia, Mons. Renato Boccardo, the message stems from Christ’s Resurrection. These are beams of hope in a reality where shadows seem to overwhelm a reconstruction process that “strives to come true”, but which “also depends on our good will and on our commitment.” Msgr. Boccardo speaks of the upcoming time of Easter, the second for the populations hit by the earthquake in the area of Valnerina after the seismic activity that devastated Central Italy in August 2016, followed by the tragic earthquake of October 26 and October 30, that caused no casualties but left thousands displaced persons and incalculable damage to the artistic and cultural heritage of the Apennines. The archbishop stands in front of the remains of St. Benedict’s basilica, patron Saint of the city. Today a maze of scaffoldings protects from further earthquakes what was unanimously defined the iconic symbol of the seism.
Your Excellency, the time of Easter is drawing near. But Resurrection is preceded by Calvary, by the Passion that must be lived out. What does Passion correspond to in this land hit by the earthquake? For the areas of the Valnerina, in particular for the three towns hit by the earthquake – Norcia, Preci and Cascia – the Passion corresponds to the daily struggle to recover a safe, dignified life, which includes employment and the restoration of social organization.
Here the Passion corresponds to jobs that can’t be found, businesses that strive to make a fresh start, homes that don’t exist.
Beyond the rubble made of stones, of collapsed walls, the earthquake also caused wounds in social relationships thereby sparking off disunity. Many people have drifted apart, others have left. Today in these areas the Passion consists in resisting, in order to recover a normal life.
Bureaucracy is also a cause of Passion… A few days ago some people came up to me and said that
Red tape is causing greater damage that the earthquake itself.
Earthquakes destroy everything in the span of a few seconds, but in one way or another they also end, while bureaucracy progresses with time, causing anger, disappointment and frustration on the part of those who have been waiting for answers for far too long.
As we walked through Norcia and its surrounding areas we noticed that its churches are all shut down. Everything remained the way it was after the 2916 earthquake … Not even one church is fully accessible in all of Norcia and its surrounding areas. Luckily we managed to inaugurate three community centres, one in Norcia and two in neighbouring districts, thanks to the generosity of Caritas Italy. Those are the only places where people can celebrate Christian life in a communal manner, with safe spaces to meet and come together, thereby restoring the network of personal relationships that had been undermined by the earthquake. These places remind us of the solidarity and generosity conveyed to our populations over the past months. It’s probably the positive aspect of the earthquake:
The people of Valnerina were not left alone.
This great moral act of concrete gestures of solidarity made by individuals, by organizations, by groups of people, by institutions, stands out as a heritage of humanity of the Italian people.
Is there an episode that impressed you the most and that you consider exemplary? It’s the story of one our elderly inhabitants of San Pellegrino, who survived three earthquakes. He approached me one day, shortly after the earthquake of past October, and said: “When the Lord sends us hard times He also sends us the strength to overcome them.” I consider this to be the great message that should be enshrined in the story of this earthquake.
The Lord does not send us the earthquake to punish us; natural events run their course. Within these situations of suffering and pain the strength we are given by God enables us to undertake a difficult path without ever losing hope.
We’re in Saint Benedict’s Square, that overlooks the remains of the basilica of the Saint. This church too is awaiting the Resurrection. In spite of everything the debris echoes Benedict’s message: “Ora et labora” (pray and work). What do these words mean in today’s Norcia? A 90 year-old priest, who served as parish priest in Norcia during the previous earthquake, said that
Norcia was rebuilt around the altar.
There was an impetus of Christian life, the recovery of the feeling of belonging to the ecclesial and civil community. I believe that for all of the afore-mentioned reasons, St. Benedict’s message, “ora et labora”, preserves its topical relevance in full.
Saint Benedict continues being present in Norcia.
Beyond the crumbled walls of his Basilica, his teachings call upon us to extend our gaze upwards, to cherish our relationship with God, whereby we can draw solid hope. His teachings also encourage us to look downwards to roll up our sleeves without waiting for external solutions to all problems.
What is your message for the upcoming Easter? Mine is a wish of peace and joy. Far from being superficial feelings, these wishes constitute the inner predisposition that enables us to preserve the strength to face difficulties. Peace and joy stem from our hearts, but most of all, they are the gifts of God.
I pray that the Resurrection of the Lord may bring everyone, especially the local families who continue living their Via Crucis, heartfelt joy and the peace to move forward with strength and hopefulness.