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Pope Francis visits Italian region hit by earthquakes in 2012

Pope Francis was greeted by tens of thousands of faithful on Sunday as he visited a northern region of Italy which has largely rebuilt from a pair of deadly earthquakes five years ago.

His first stop in the Emilia Romagna region was the quake-damaged Duomo cathedral of Carpi, where he laid a bouquet of white flowers at the foot of a statue of the Madonna inside.

After years of restoration, the cathedral reopened just last weekend.

"There are those who remain buried in the rubble of life," the pope said in his homily before an estimated 20,000 gathered in the piazza outside the cathedral for an open-air Mass.

"There are those, like you, who with the help of God rise from the rubble to rebuild."

Another 50,000 people watched the Mass on large screens throughout the city of 70,000.

During his day-long visit, the pope will also meet with families who lost loved ones in the quake and hold a discussion with priests, nuns and seminarians.

The Emilia Romagna model of rebuilding after the 6.1-magnitude and 5.8-magnitude quakes that killed 28 people in 2012 has often been cited as exemplary.

It included bringing together politicians, entrepreneurs and bishops to decide common priorities.

The papal visit was meant to give a sign of gratitude for the rebuilding, the archbishop of Carpi, Monsignor Francesco Cavina, told the Italian Bishops' Conference television TV2000.

He said it is also "a sign of hope that rebuilding is possible for the people of central Italy, who unfortunately suffered what we did much more dramatically".

A 6.1-magnitude quake on August 24 last year in Italy's central regions of Umbria, Abruzzo and Marche killed nearly 300 people, toppled thousands of buildings and rendered many town centres uninhabitable.

It was followed by a series of quakes in October, including the strongest in Italy in nearly four decades at 6.6-magnitude that toppled and damaged a higher number of structures, but did not bring further deaths since the most vulnerable areas had already been evacuated.

AP

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