Italy mourns quake victims in Good Friday ceremony

April 11th, 2009 - 2:39 am ICT by IANS  

L’Aquila (Italy), April 11 (DPA) A state funeral for many of the victims of Monday’s earthquake in Italy began Friday with a message from Pope Benedict XVI and also included prayers offered by a Muslim cleric.
“I am spiritually close” to those who have suffered in the “immense tragedy” the pontiff’s personal secretary, Monsignor Georg Gaenswein said, reading Benedict’s words.

“I implore God to grant eternal rest to the victims, a swift recovery to the injured and for all, the courage to continue hoping without succumbing to despair,” Benedict’s message read.

Dozens of wooden caskets, including smaller ones painted white and containing some of the at least 20 children killed in the earthquake, lay before an altar erected at a parade ground of a police training school in the city of L’Aquila.

The remains of a four-month-year old baby lay in a coffin placed on top of another bearing those of his mother who also died in the earthquake.

A casket belonging to another victim, a rugby player of the local L’Aquila club, was draped with his team jersey.

Italian President Giorgio Napolitano and Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi sat among other mourners as the Vatican’s second highest official, Secretary of State Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone presided over the solemn ceremony.

By Friday morning the death toll from the earthquake stood at 287.

The funeral took the form of a Eucharist Mass with priests handing out communion wafers to mourners, including some of those injured who wore neck braces and bandages.

The pontiff had given special permission for the Eucharist Mass to be held, a rite which the Roman Catholic does not usually celebrate on Good Friday, the day when Christians mark Jesus’ death on the cross.

Near the end of the ceremony, a Muslim imam, Mohamed Nour Dachan, offered prayers on behalf of Italy’s Islamic community. Six of the victims of the earthquake were Muslims.

The funeral was televised live on national television. Condolences to the victims was also paid elsewhere in Italy including at Rome’s international Leonardo Da Vinci airport, where activities stopped for a minute’s silence.

Meanwhile rescuers continued sifting through rubble in L’Aquila and other nearby, badly damaged towns.

Despite fading hopes of finding more survivors, their work to find more survivors is set to continue until Easter Sunday.

The task has been made even more dangerous by dozens of powerful aftershocks that have followed the main earthquake. Monday’s tremor registered around 6.2 on the Richter scale.

Some 17,000 people spent Thursday night housed in several tent camps set up by authorities as shelters mainly for residents of the worst hit areas including L’Aquila’s city centre and the towns of Onna and Paganica.

The government says that reconstruction costs will rise to 1.2 billion euros ($1.6 billion) and entire towns will have to be rebuilt.

Monday’s earthquake was the deadliest to hit Italy in almost 30 years.

In 1980 up to 3,000 people are estimated to have died in an earthquake in the southern Campania and Basilicata regions.

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