Pope pledges to visit Italian quake victims

A damaged Virgin Mary statue is seen in a church following an earthquake at Cossito in central Italy, on Aug. 26, 2016. (Photo courtesy of Reuters/Max Rossi)

Vatican City — Pope Francis led prayers for the victims of Italy's earthquake and announced plans to visit survivors in the affected area soon.

"I say to those dear people that the church shares their suffering and their worries," the pope said on Sunday after his traditional weekly Angelus prayer service at St. Peter's Basilica.

"She prays for the dead and the survivors."

After expressing his solidarity and sympathy for the victims and their families, the pope promised to visit the medieval towns in central Italy where 290 people lost their lives in the 6.2 magnitude quake last Wednesday.

"I hope to come to see you as soon as possible, to bring you in person the comfort of the faith, the embrace of a father and a brother, and the support of Christian hope," Francis said.

The death toll from last Wednesday's earthquake was revised down one to 290 as civil protection officials, firefighters and volunteers continued to sift through the wreckage in the towns of Amatrice and Accumoli but hopes of finding any survivors were dim.

Six bodies found have reportedly been found in the past two days from rubble of Amatrice, the hardest hit town.

More than 2,600 people have been left homeless by the quake and are living in dozens of tent camps in central Italy. The head of civil protection, Fabrizio Curcio, said Sunday his department was now moving from the "emergency" phase to "assistance."

On Saturday, Italy held a day of national mourning for the quake victims. The president, Sergio Mattarella, and the prime minister, Matteo Renzi, joined hundreds at a state funeral in Ascoli Piceno to mourn 35 of the victims, including an 18-month-old baby, while flags flew at half-mast across the country.

As civil protection crews and firefighters continued to search the ruins, Italy's state museums were donating Sunday's proceeds to relief and reconstruction.

Culture minister Dario Franceschini appealed to Italians to visit a museum as "a sign of solidarity" for the quake victims and their families.

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