VATICAN CITY – Pope Benedict XVI will tour towns damaged by Italy's earthquake and visit a tent city of survivors in an effort to restore hope and solidarity for the area's reconstruction, the Vatican said Saturday.
The three-hour visit on April 28 will include time at the tent city on the outskirts of Onna, a hamlet that was completely leveled by the powerful April 6 earthquake.
The quake claimed 295 lives, drove some 50,000 people from their homes, and toppled or heavily damaged thousands of buildings, including churches, schools and other public buildings in the Abruzzo region in the central Apennine mountains.
In Onna, on the outskirts of L'Aquila, about 40 of the 300 residents died.
Benedict also will go to the site of a collapsed university dormitory in L'Aquila, where seven students were killed, and to the Basilica of Collemaggio, the town's best known church that suffered heavy damage.
The 82-year-old pope will visit a military barracks on L'Aquila's outskirts, which has been hosting offices aiding the victims.
By visiting the Abruzzo quake area, the pope will bring "hope and the church's expression of solidarity, which it had already shown from the start by intensely sharing in the sorrow of the stricken people," the Vatican's No. 2 official, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, said on the sidelines of a ceremony in Rome.
Benedict "will give a great sign of hope, as well as a push to spur capabilities to rebuild with the efforts of the Lord and the solidarity of so many good persons," the Italian news agency ANSA quoted Bertone, the Vatican's secretary of state, as saying.
Traveling by helicopter, Benedict will have an aerial view of the devastation caused by the 6.3-magnitude temblor, the Vatican said.
Immediately after the quake, Benedict expressed solidarity with survivors and prayed for the victims.
Pontiffs have a tradition of visiting sites of disasters in Italy.
In January 1998, Benedict's predecessor, Pope John Paul II, made a pilgrimage to Assisi, some 3 1/2 months after a quake heavily damaged that Umbrian hill town which is the birthplace of St. Francis, and met with survivors living in temporary trailer shelters in other towns in the countryside.