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Peruvians join in prayer near quake's epicenter


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Pisco, Peru — A subdued crowd of several hundred residents and rescue workers gathered in the main plaza of Pisco to pray with a top Vatican official who had come to remember victims of the mid- August earthquake.

Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, Vatican secretary of state, conveyed “greetings, solidarity and blessings” from Pope Benedict XVI to worshippers in Pisco, as well as a crowd of more than 5,000 people at an earlier prayer service Aug. 24 in Ica, about 42 miles south of Pisco.

The mood was more subdued in Pisco, the city closest to the epicenter of the quake, than it was in Ica. More than 300 of the more than 500 quake victims died in Pisco—at least 100 of them when the roof of St. Clement Church collapsed during a memorial Mass for a parishioner who had died a month earlier.

The cardinal urged residents not to give up hope and to remember that God is present even in the midst of tragedy.

After the service, Cardinal Bertone waded through the thick adobe dust on the site of the church and led prayers for those who had died and for their families. He then viewed the remains of collapsed buildings near the plaza and visited a shelter housing about 700 people left homeless by the quake, where he was greeted by a crowd of children.

Peruvian officials say the magnitude 8 quake that hit southern Peru Aug. 15 left tens of thousands homeless and seriously injured at least 1,200 people.

At the service in Ica, Cardinal Bertone conveyed a greeting from the pope “especially to the children” and gave Bishop Guido Brena Lopez of Ica a $200,000 check for relief efforts. In both cities, he presented rosaries sent by the pontiff.

The service in Ica was held outside the shrine that normally houses the image of the Lord of Luren, the site of a popular religious devotion. The church was heavily damaged in the earthquake when part of the bell tower fell through the roof.

The image—a dark-skinned crucified Christ, with Mary kneeling by his side and Mary Magdalene embracing the foot of the cross—was unscathed in the disaster and was carried in procession to the site of the prayer service Aug. 24.

During the service, the cardinal said the fact that the image was undamaged was a reminder that “the Lord has not abandoned us. He is here among you. The Lord wants to remain with you and accompany you.”

While waiting more than an hour for the service to begin, the crowd of worshippers prayed and sang hymns, clapping as the cardinal arrived with a delegation that included Archbishop Passigato Rino, the papal nuncio to Peru; Cardinal Juan Cipriani Thorne of Lima; Archbishop Hector Cabrejos Vidarte of Trujillo, president of the Peruvian bishops’ conference; and Bishop Miguel Irizar Campos of Callao, president of the Catholic charitable organization Caritas Peru.

In Pisco, several hundred residents, rescue workers, firefighters, civil defense workers, doctors and nurses gathered in the plaza, surrounded by emergency shelter tents and portable toilets. The makeshift altar at the foot of a statue of South American liberator Jose de San Martin held a crucifix rescued from a damaged church and was flanked by a colonial-style statue of Christ that was also undamaged by the quake.

Cardinal Bertone was in Peru to preside over a five-day national eucharistic congress that began Aug. 25 in Chimbote. Upon arriving in Lima Aug. 23, he said, “Everyone is in solidarity with the Peruvian people,” and he called for “a new hope, a new force of moral reconstruction and material reconstruction” in Peru.

On Aug. 24, he met with Cardinal Cipriani and President Alan Garcia before traveling to Ica and Pisco.