AMATRICE, Italy, Oct. 4 (UPI) — Pope Francis on Tuesday made a surprise visit to the historic town of Amatrice, which was largely reduced to rubble by a 6.2-magnitude earthquake in August.
“My visit, perhaps, is more of an obstruction than a help,” the pontiff said once he arrived. “I wanted to greet you, but I didn’t want to be an inconvenience, that’s why I let some time pass.”
The Aug. 24 earthquake, the epicenter of which was near Amatrice, killed nearly 300 people and injured more than 350. The towns of Accumoli and Arquata del Tronto, where the pope also visited, were damaged as well.
“I waited for some things to be fixed, like the school, but since the beginning I felt that I had to come to you, simply to tell you that I am close to you, nothing else, and that I pray for you,” Francis added.
Francis traveled to the stricken Italian towns after a visit to Azerbaijan. The pope briefly spoke of the U.S. presidential election after landing in Rome.
“During an electoral campaign I never say a word. The people are sovereign, and I would say only: Study the proposals well, pray and choose with your conscience,” Francis said when asked about U.S. Catholics finding it difficult to choose between two candidates “who diverge from the teachings of the church.”
Francis visited a school during Tuesday’s visit, which led to a large gathering of people.