I’ve been thinking about the earthquake in L’Aquila, Italy, that claimed 292 lives. We stopped on our pilgrimage from St. Mary’s at that beautiful old medieval city on our way fron the shrine of St. Gabriel in the Abruzzi last November. Now it’s in ruins.
In January, 1915, an earthquake hit the town of Pescina, about 25 miles from Aquila, killing 3,500 of the town 5,000 people. The Italian writer, Ignazio Silone, a native of the town, dug his mother’s body from its rubble and would remember the day the rest of his life.
“In an earthquake,” he wrote, “everyone dies: rich and poor, learned and illiterate, politicians and people. An earthquake accomplishes what words and laws promise and never achieve: the equality of all.”
News from the Passionist shrine, not far away, was that the community there were sleeping in cars outside the buildings, which have been shaken by the shocks.
They buried their dead in L’Aquila on Good Friday at a mass funeral.
Earthquakes are awful experiences. They ‘re the harsh face of nature– our mother, our sister, our brother– that nourishes us with life and delights us with beauty. Yet, nature also brings death and destruction. With all our technical expertise we can’t predict when or where the earth will open up. Quakes are no respecters of persons: old, young, rich, poor are taken. Treasured buildings completely destroyed.
It’s interesting that Matthew’s gospel says “the rocks were rent” when Jesus died. He was describing an earthquake. But this one reverses the equation; it brings the dead to life.
“This day you will be with me in paradise,” Jesus says to the thief hanging in the dark at his side. As the rocks are rent, the dead rise. Jesus’ resurrection reaches out to all humanity, to all the dead. And the earth itself takes part in the mystery. An earthquake, its sign of death, becomes a sign of resurrection.
The mystery of his cross speaks to the mystery of death. As the earth quakes, God wills that there be life.
On television news from Aquila, a reporter picked up a cross from the rubble and handed it to a Franciscan priest who was showing him a ruined church. Then the earth quaked again and they had to get out of the church. How significant his gesture was!