Pope sets date for visit to earthquake zone

VATICAN CITY — Pope Benedict XVI will visit the earthquake-devastated area of L’Aquila in central Italy on April 28, the Vatican announced over the weekend.

A fireman surveys a damaged church in St. Gregorio near L'Aquila. (CNS photo/Max Rossi, Reuters)

A fireman surveys a damaged church in St. Gregorio near L'Aquila. (CNS photo/Max Rossi, Reuters)

The pope will first helicopter to the tent city outside the mountain village of Onna, one of the hardest hit towns, and then go to L’Aquila to pray at the ruins of a university dormitory that collapsed, killing seven students.

He’ll visit the 13th-century Basilica of Santa Maria di Collemaggio, heavily damaged in the April 6 quake, and then meet with survivors and relief workers. During the three-hour visit, the pope will survey other damaged towns from the air.

Vatican officials said the pope has been eager to travel to the earthquake zone, about 70 miles east of Rome, but wanted to make sure his visit did not complicate or impede rescue and relief efforts.

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