Pope Francis Encourages Rebuilding after Earthquakes "I encourage you in your intention to make reconstruction an opportunity also...to remedy the mistakes of the past and set growth plans for the future."

Clementine Hall on Friday, November 24, 2023
Meeting with local authorities of cities included in the so-called “seismic crater” of central Italy, Pope Francis commends their joint efforts to rebuild their territories devastated by the 2016-2017 earthquakes, and urges them to pay attention to sustainability, protection of the environment, and climate change in their plans to rebuild their cities.
Dear brothers and sisters, good morning!
I welcome you on your pilgrimage to Rome. I greet the Cardinal, the Bishops and the numerous civil, local and state authorities, and I welcome everyone.
You come from the area of Italy marked by the wounds of the earthquake which, between 24 August 2016 and January 2017, sowed death and destruction, leaving behind many wounds in people and families, destroying production centers, homes and artistic monuments and bringing the economy of your territories to its knees in various sectors. An earthquake is a devastating experience, both physically and morally, because it causes what has been worked for for generations to collapse in a very short time, and makes you feel fragile and helpless: this is the experience of each of you.
Yet we today, while we painfully remember the tragedy and the victims, to whose relatives I want to renew my closeness, we can, thanks to your perseverance and foresight, also speak of significant steps forward in reconstruction. In recent years you have demonstrated that the spirit of collaboration can overcome obstacles and uncertainties, constituting you «into an “us” that inhabits the common home» (Encyclical letter Fratelli tutti, 17), so that something new can be born from the rubble. You have been able to seize the opportunity for a new beginning, especially with the Next Appennino socio-economic regeneration program, proposing three very important attentions: sustainability, nature and current climate changes. Let's stop for a moment on these.
Attention to sustainability. «The urgent challenge of protecting our common home includes the […] search for sustainable and integral development» (Encyclical letter Laudato si', 13). From this perspective, adopting adequate sustainability criteria is an important act of justice and charity, because it aims to satisfy the needs without compromising the safety and survival of those around us and those who will come after us. It is comforting to see how you have been able to plan the reconstruction on the elimination of waste, on the valorisation and fair distribution of resources, on the protection of the most vulnerable and on the removal of architectural barriers. Thus, in the face of an "immeasurable and disorderly growth of many cities which have become unlivable" (ibid., 44) due to pollution, chaos, isolation, marginalization and loneliness, especially for the elderly and the weak, aimed at urban models in which both "desirable to live" (ibid., 143), integrating the needs linked to economic growth and technical development with those of a good quality of life, both personal and community. It means putting the person back at the center of the city: the person at the center of the city. This is the path to always follow: the person. It is the path that can also help to address the crises of depopulation and demographic decline, offering the possibility of living in environments rich in everything that the fathers have left, increased and embellished by wise management for the community; all this, always with the utmost attention to supervising the legality of contracts and procedures, and safety at work. Depopulation is a key problem. In Italy you don't have children, and it's serious. We have an average age of 46 years. It seems that families prefer to have little dogs or cats and not children: it is the "veterinary culture". Let's be careful about this. Is this the legacy we leave?
We come to the second point: attention to nature. The regions from which you come are among the most beautiful in Italy and in the world, also known internationally for the charm of their landscapes and for the presence of ancient villages and towns set like small gems along the slopes of the mountains, on the hills and in the valleys. It is a model of harmony between the work of God and that of man. Building with attention to the environment, protecting its beauty and health, promoting "a culture of shared life and respect for what surrounds us" (Laudato si', 213), helps in fact to "live the vocation of being custodians of the work of God" (ibid., 217), and this is our mission. In fact, behaviors aimed at not disfiguring the landscape with excessively invasive and unsightly constructions, not polluting the environment, not altering the habitats of other animal and plant species, «reducing water consumption, separating waste, […] planting trees", all this "is part of a generous and dignified creativity, which shows the best of the human being" (ibid., 211). I encourage you in your intention to make reconstruction an opportunity also in this sense: to remedy the mistakes of the past and set growth plans for the future in a different way. It is an emergency, I believe, for all of Italy. Alongside the commitment to the birth rate, the commitment to hydrogeological security represents a vital need, made even more necessary by the acceleration of climate change. Both fronts are far-sighted, essential for today and tomorrow.
So here's the last point: pay attention to climate change. «There is no doubt that the impact of climate change will increasingly damage the lives of many people and families. We will feel the effects in terms of health, work, access to resources, housing, forced migrations and other areas" (Apostolic Exhortation Laudate Deum, 2). Therefore, it is important on the one hand to apply all the necessary measures to stop the ongoing drift and on the other, having taken note of the changes that have already occurred, to take steps to deal with them, both at a global and local level. It is a question, for example, of taking greater care in cleaning the woods and the beds of rivers and streams; to reduce and discourage the overbuilding of the territory; to introduce new types of crops and livestock species in the agricultural sector, with appropriate investments for the years to come. Here too it is a question of an open gaze, attentive to others and to those who will come after us; we must not let ourselves be discouraged by criticism or discontent.
Dear friends, I sympathize with your effort and your concerns. I am close to those who suffer from the loss of family members and livelihoods. The path to post-seismic reconstruction is long and certainly not easy, and I really appreciate the fact that the spirit with which you face it is good, that the spirit is determined and that the ideas are clear. Thank you. I wish you a good journey, may Our Lady accompany you.