Pope Francis on Monday met with a community of Poor Clare nuns, whose abbess died when the roof of their monastery collapsed in an earthquake in 2009.

The cloistered nuns were able to return to their monastery, located in the hilltop town of Paganica in central Italy, in March 2019.

Ten years earlier, the 5.9 magnitude quake, with an epicenter not far from the nuns’ property, caused the monastery roof to collapse, seriously injuring two nuns and killing Abbess Maria Gemma Antonucci.

More than 300 people died in the earthquake, Italy’s deadliest since 1980.

“In that night you lost everything except God and fraternity,” Pope Francis told the nuns in prepared remarks given out during the April 26 meeting. “From these two strong points you have set out again with courage.”

He noted that the community of 12 nuns is flourishing with young vocations. “This is the message you have given to the people: in the face of tragedies it is necessary to start again from God and fraternal solidarity. Thank you so much for this,” he said.

The monastery of the Poor Sisters of St. Clare in Paganica was started by Bl. Antonia da Firenze and St. Giovanni da Capestrano in the 15th century. 

The incorrupt remains of Bl. Antonia are kept in the monastery’s church of St. Bartholomew. After the earthquake the relics were moved for safekeeping but they returned to the church in 2016. 

Before the 2009 earthquake, the cloistered community had lived in its current structure since 1997, when it moved from the nearby town of L’Aquila to the quieter spot. 

On their website, the nuns explain that they live “in the contemplative retreat of the cloister, witnessing to the world the priority of seeking God and encountering him.”

“By making ourselves channels of grace for the Church, our daily prayer wants to be intercession for every man, our brother,” the nuns state. “As the roots of the tree draw sap from the earth to give nourishment to the whole plant, so our life hidden in God, drawing from him through prayer, allows every creature, every vocation, to receive from God light, strength, peace, and every good.”

Pope Francis told the nuns never to tire “of being a prayerful and consoling presence to support the population, severely tested by the terrible experience [of the earthquake] and still in need of comfort and encouragement.”

“May the example of Bl. Antonia help you to always be poor and joyful women for love of the poor Christ,” the pope said. “Faithful to the charism received from St. Clare and St. Francis, respond generously to the desire that God has placed in your heart, living your life as a consecrated person in total adherence to the Gospel.”

During their meeting, the Poor Clares gave Pope Francis a Paschal candle they had painted for the chapel in his residence, the Casa Santa Marta, where he offers Mass every morning. The nuns attended the pope’s Santa Marta Mass Oct. 11, 2019.

Thanking them for their prayers and for the gift of the candle, Francis said, “through this symbol of Christ the light of the world, you are spiritually present at the celebrations that take place in that chapel.”

When the Franciscan community moved back into its monastery in 2019, Giuseppe Cardinal Petrocchi, Archbishop of L’Aquila, said in a homily that “the monastery, an industrious dwelling, has its windows open to the world and often, even if recluse, the Poor Clares arrive through prayer where we cannot reach.”