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Pope goes to Italy quake zone to comfort victims

Pope Benedict XVI visited northern Italy on Tuesday to comfort survivors of last month's back-to-back earthquakes that killed 24 people, urging them to rebuild and keep the faith.

Benedict traveled by helicopter from the Vatican to Rovereto Di Novi near Modena, where Rev. Ivan Martini was killed during an aftershock of the May 29 quake when part of his church roof caved in when he returned to try to save its statue of the Madonna.

The statue was displayed Tuesday in front of the church of St. Catherine. Many of the town's faithful are now living in small tents nearby.

Benedict briefly prayed at the church before greeting residents of the tiny town, much of which has been declared off-limits because buildings remain too unstable from the 5.8-magnitude temblor. A 6.0-magnitude quake hit nearby May 20.

One of the first people Benedict greeted was the brother of Martini, who residents said had been the first to set up a canteen for displaced people before rescue teams arrived.

The statue was later carried to a covered stage where Benedict urged the cheering crowd to not give up hope even amid the debris and uncertainties of their lives.

"On this rock, with this firm hope, you can build, you can rebuild," the German-born Benedict told the crowd, recalling how Italy had rebuilt itself after World War II.

Resident Albino Lodi said he hoped the visit would "bring a smile to the faces of these people who were hit so badly by the earthquake."

The visit echoed one Benedict made in 2009 to the central Italian city of L'Aquila, after a 6.3 magnitude temblor there destroyed much of the city's historic center and killed 308 people.