VATICAN CITY, Aug. 29 (UPI) -- Pope Francis said he will visit the Italian towns decimated by last week's 6.2-magnitude earthquake that killed at least 290 people.
"Dear brothers and sisters, I hope to come visit you as soon as possible so I can personally bring you the comfort of faith and the support of Christian hope," Francis said while speaking to worshippers Sunday in Vatican City's St. Peter's Square. "I hope to come and see you, to bring you the comfort of faith, the tenderness of a father and a brother."
Thousands of people were injured and left homeless after the earthquake on Wednesday, which generated powerful aftershocks that hampered search and rescue efforts.
"I think of the people of Accumoli, Amatrice, Arquata, Pescara del Tronto, Norcia," Francis said, naming the towns worst-hit by the earthquake.
Authorities have launched a criminal investigation to ascertain why buildings that were supposed to be reinforced collapsed during the earthquake.
Prosecutors are particularly focusing on why a school and a church bell tower collapsed. Both had been reinforced previously to withstand earthquakes. When the bell tower of Accumoli church fell, it killed a family of four.
Francis said he expressed his "spiritual closeness" to the victims and said the Catholic Church "shares their suffering and their concerns."
Sergio Pirozzo, mayor of the town of Amatrice, said news of the pope's visit gives "great comfort."