Page last updated at 15:38 GMT, Saturday, 18 April 2009 16:38 UK

Pope to visit Italian quake zone

The Pope addresses Franciscan friars in his residence at Castel Gandolfo, 18 April
The Pope met Franciscan friars at his summer residence on Saturday

Pope Benedict is to visit the site of the earthquake in central Italy which claimed 295 lives and made at least 50,000 homeless, the Vatican says.

Travelling to the Abruzzo region by helicopter on 28 April, he will see the extent of the destruction from the air.

The Roman Catholic leader is due to visit a tent camp for survivors outside the ruined village of Onna.

He will also see the ruins of a student hostel in L'Aquila and the city's badly damaged Basilica of Collemaggio.

The pontiff, who has already offered prayers for those affected by the quake, delayed making the trip earlier so as not to interfere with rescue operations after the 6 April disaster, Reuters news agency reports.

Pontiffs have a tradition of visiting sites of disasters in Italy, the agency adds.

In January 1998, Benedict's predecessor, Pope John Paul II, made a pilgrimage to Assisi, about three and a half months after a quake heavily damaged the town, which is the birthplace of St Francis.

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