Sharing life and closeness in grief: six years after the earthquake in central Italy

Six years ago, a tremendous earthquake shook central Italy, and the friars minor began to write a new and renewed story of proximity, listening and closeness: a story of humanity, which is still alive six years later. A total of twenty-seven friars minor in rotation shared the life, the hardships and the hopes of the people living in a container, which they called the “plastic friary”.

On 24 August 2016, in the middle of the night, the earth shook in Amatrice, Accumoli and Arquata in the Marche, a mountainous territory nestled between Lazio, Marche, Umbria and Abruzzo, and from that moment on, reality has never been the same. The earthquake claimed 299 lives and left profound wounds in people. Yet, six years later, two friars minor still live in that area, continuing the style of presence and sharing.

The “plastic monastery”, photo credit: vocazionafrancescana.org

Remembering this anniversary makes sense to continue being close to the wounded populations and supporting them with prayer and solidarity. And at the same time, it allows us to remember our presence as friars minor in difficult places marked by suffering, a presence made up first of all of sharing life, closeness in pain and simple prayer with the people. We have experienced that this is truly the first proclamation, our testimony of life, sharing with everyone. This remains a fundamental point of our charism, which finds expression in so many parts of the world and gives us hope for the future”. The words of Br Massimo Fusarelli, today Minister General of the Friars Minor, who at the time, with two other friars, accepted the invitation of Bishop Domenico Pompili to stand by the populations of Amatrice and Accumuli.

After the earthquake, a small Franciscan community was set up to serve a Church and a vast and fragmented territory (as many as 69 villages) heavily hit by the earthquake. From the ‘plastic friary’, as Br Massimo describes it, or the container, the friars moved every day to visit families and the sick and elderly, and to bring a word of comfort, a little help, to provide a service, to face and resolve “the crumbling of bonds”, as Br Massimo defines it. The whole Franciscan family made itself available to help: three Conventual friars and several Capuchin friars – who stayed a year and a half in the area but in another place – helped the many families in need of help and support.

(Picture from the 2017 documentary of TV2000: I frati francescani ad Amatrice)

From November 2016 until the end of July 2017, the small community of three Friars Minor lived in the village of Amatrice, sharing the hopes and fears of the 600 or so people who had chosen not to leave. Ninety-six villages were almost razed to the ground, with churches and cemeteries uninhabitable, nearly all the buildings destined to be demolished, and most of the population taking refuge on the coast.

Today, after six years, Br Massimo concludes: “Remembering so as not to forget, remembering so as not to lose faith that Franciscan life is possible everywhere, even outside well-established structures, with evangelical freedom and with much love for the Lord and for the men and women who are our brothers and friends, without distinction. Proclaimers of reconciliation and peace, as brothers and sons of St Francis”.

Francesco Stefanini