Pope Francis has expressed his "heartfelt sorrow and spiritual closeness" to all those affected by the lethal earthquake that has claimed at least 120 lives in Italy and left thousands homeless.
The earthquake struck early on Aug. 24 when most residents were asleep, razing homes and buckling roads in a cluster of communities some 140 kilometers (84 miles) east of Rome, Reuters news agency reported.
"I want to assure all the people of Accumuli, Amatrice, the Diocese of Rieti, Ascoli Piceno, and all the people of Lazio, Umbria, and Le Marche, of the prayers and close solidarity of the entire Church, who in these moments extends her merciful love, as well as the concern of all of us here in the Piazza," Francis said.
"I had prepared the catechesis for today, as for all Wednesdays during this year of mercy, focusing on the closeness of Jesus," said the Pope.
"However on hearing of the news of the earthquake that has struck central Italy, and which has devastated entire areas and left many wounded, I cannot fail to express my heartfelt sorrow and spiritual closeness to all those present in the zones afflicted."
A family of four, including two boys aged 8 months and 9 years, were buried when their house in Accumoli collapsed.
Rescue workers carried away the infant's body, carefully covered by a small blanket, the children's grandmother blamed God: "He took them all at once," she wept.
The army helped with special heavy equipment and the treasury released 235 million euros ($265 million) of emergency funds.
POPE THANKS RESCUE WORKERS
The pontiff thanked all the volunteer and rescue personnel assisting the quake victims.
"I ask you to join me in praying to the Lord Jesus, Who is always moved by compassion before the reality of human suffering, that He may console the broken hearted, and through the intercession of the Virgin Mary, bring them peace.
"With Jesus let our hearts be moved with compassion.
"So we will postpone, then, this week's catechesis until next Wednesday, and I invite you to pray with me a part of the holy Rosary, the sorrowful mysteries."
Photographs from the air showed whole areas of Amatrice, voted last year as one of Italy's most beautiful historic towns, flattened by the 6.2 magnitude quake.
"It's all young people here, it's holiday season, the town festival was to have been held the day after tomorrow so lots of people came for that," said Amatrice resident Giancarlo, sitting in the road wearing just his underwear, Reuters reported.
"It's terrible, I'm 65-years-old and I have never experienced anything like this, small tremors, yes, but nothing this big. This is a catastrophe," he said.