29 APRIL 2009

Pope Benedict has frequently been defined as less demonstrative than his charismatic predecessor Pope Jean Paul. The German pontiff was showing a much more human face this week, though, as he visited the central Italian region struck by an earthquake three weeks ago.

In Onna, one of the towns worst hit by the quake, there was no sign of the familiar armoured Popemobile. Instead the head of the Catholic church rode through the streets in an open-topped jeep. The usual secrity precautions had been minimalised to allow him to kiss babies, hug the elderly and shake hands with tearful locals. "I share your tears," he told the gathered faithful, "and your sadness."

In L'Aquila, the 82-year-old pontiff listened intently as a local firefighter showed him the remains of a student accommodation block and explained how students had lost their lives there. He later met some of the young people who'd managed to escape the building, clasping hands with them emotionally.

He also said prayers for the 34,000 people now forced to live in makeshift homes across the Abruzzo region. "I would like to meet each of you, go into every tent," said the religious leader, who admitted the damage was even worse than he had imagined.

Photo: Rex
The pontiff listens intently as a firefighter in one of the worst affected villages explains how young people lost their lives when a student accommodation building collapsed
Photo: Rex
More relaxed security measures made it possible for Pope Benedict to get closer to the people affected by the disaster. The usual armoured Popemobile had been swapped for an open-topped jeep
You're on HELLO!'s global site. Click to return to HELLO! India Go back