The Pope said this today in an address to survivors and aid workers, in the training school courtyard of the Guardia de Financia near L'Aquila, the town closest to the epicenter of the April 6 quake.
"Here I am in this square," he began, "which almost from the first moment functioned as a headquarters for the rescue operations."
"This place, consecrated by the victims' prayers and tears, represents a symbol of your tenacious determination not to give way to discouragement," the Pontiff affirmed.
Having greeted the mayors and pastors of the villages most affected by the disaster, he noted the words of L'Aquila's leader, who expressed a "firm intention to rebuild the city, with that constancy which characterises the people of the Abruzzo region."
The Holy Father recalled the funeral of the victims, celebrated two weeks ago by his secretary of state, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone. He added, "My visit among you, which I wished to make from the first moment, is intended as a sign of my closeness to each one of you, and of the fraternal solidarity of the entire Church."
Benedict XVI affirmed: "The truth is that as a Christian community we are a single spiritual body; if one part suffers, all the others suffer too; if one part struggles to arise, all share in that effort.
I must tell you that expressions of solidarity have reached me from all sides. Many high-ranking figures of the Orthodox Churches have written to assure me of their prayers and spiritual solidarity, also sending economic aid."
The Pope emphasized "the value and importance of solidarity which, though chiefly demonstrated at moments of crisis, is like a fire hidden under the embers."
He added: "Solidarity is a highly civic and Christian sentiment, a measure of the maturity of a society.
"In practical terms it is expressed in aid work, but it not merely an efficient organizational machine; it has a soul and a passion which arise from the great civil and Christian history of our people, whether it takes an institutional form or is expressed through volunteer work."
"The tragic earthquake calls the civil community and the Church to profound reflection," the Pontiff noted.
At Easter, he said, "we celebrated the death and resurrection of Christ, bringing your pain to our minds and hearts, and praying that those affected would not lose their trust in God and their hope."
The Holy Father asserted: "The civil community must also undertake a serious examination of conscience, and ensure it always shoulders its responsibilities. On this basis L'Aquila, though wounded, will arise once more."
He invoked the protection of Our Lady of Roio, venerated in the region, for "all localities affected by the earthquake." He led the Regina Coeli and placed a golden rose at the foot of her statue before concluding his visit and returning to Rome.