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When tragedy strikes, don’t turn God into a scapegoat

By Carol Glatz
Catholic News Service


VATICAN CITY (CNS) — Do not turn to superstition or blame God in the aftermath of a deadly tragedy, the bishop of Rieti told people mourning the deaths of those killed by the devastating earthquake that struck central Italy.

God is humanity’s salvation and “cannot be used as a scapegoat,” Bishop Domenico Pompili said in his homily Aug. 30 at a funeral mass in the village of Amatrice, which was nearly razed to the ground. The 6.2 quake rumbled across the central Italian regions of Lazio, Mache and Umbria Aug. 24, leaving at least 292 people dead and more than 400 people injured.

The mass, attended by residents left homeless as well as top government officials, was held under a large tent canopy.

A wooden statue of the crucified Christ, salvaged from the wreckage, was suspended from a rope behind the altar. It hung against a backdrop of concrete and twisted steel from a building that buckled under the weight of its roof; solar panels lay in a jumble on top, like playing cards hastily tossed aside. The mountains of rubble were ringed by a dense forest of trees, lush and green in the pouring rain.

“The question, ‘Where is God?’ shouldn’t get asked afterward, but comes first and at every time for explaining life and death,” he said. Pathetic cliches and reactions bordering on superstition — with talk about fate, bad luck and coincidences — must also be avoided, he added.

Underlining the importance of restoring the vitality and beauty of affected communities, Pompili said that “to desert these places would be to kill them a second time.” However, the years of rebuilding will require co-operative, “tender and tenacious” effort if they are to avoid the political wrangling and profiteering that often plague Italy’s reconstruction projects.

Bishop Giovanni D’Ercole of Ascoli Piceno led a state funeral for victims Aug. 27 inside a gymnasium. More than 2,000 people attended, including Italian President Sergio Mattarella and Prime Minister Matteo Renzi. Set before the altar were dozens of caskets covered with flowers and photos of lost loved ones as well as two small white caskets representing all the children killed in the catastrophe.

“It’s fair for people to say, ‘But Lord, where are you?’ ’’ he said in his homily. However, if people look deeper, they will find that “the earthquake can take away everything, everything but one thing — the courage of faith.”

“Seismologists try everything to predict an earthquake, but only faith teaches us how to overcome it,” he said.

“Don’t be afraid,” he said. Don’t hesitate to cry out in need, “but make sure you do not lose courage because only together will we be able to rebuild our homes and churches,” he said.

Copyright (c) 2016 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops

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