Amatrice, Italy, Oct 4, 2016 / 03:03 am (CNA/EWTN News).- On Tuesday Pope Francis made an unannounced private visit to the small Italian city of Amatrice to offer support  areas devastated by a massive earthquake in August, where he offered a message of comfort and hope.

“I let a bit of time pass, so that some things could be repaired such as the school, but from the first moment I felt that I had to come to you. Simply for nothing more than to pray. I pray for you,” the Pope said during his Oct. 4 visit. He said that “closeness and prayer” were the offering he brought, and prayed that the Lord would bless those affected, and that the Virgin Mary would “comfort you in this moment of sadness, pain and trial.”

“Go forward, there is always a future, there are many loved ones who have left us. They have fallen here, let us pray to the Virgin for them. Let us do it together.”

After arriving to Amatrice at 9:10 in the morning, the Pope, accompanied by Rieti’s Bishop Domenico Pompili, went directly to the city’s school, where he offered his brief words, comforted survivors and asked the children to join him in praying the Hail Mary. He later visited the “red zone” of the city, which is where the majority of the destruction took place and is closed off due to reasons of security. Piles of rubble that have yet to be cleared away and half-destroyed buildings are still visible.  

On Sunday while on board his return flight from Baku, Azerbaijan to Rome, Pope Francis said that three dates had been proposed to him, and that while he didn’t remember the first two, one was the first Sunday of Advent, and that he needed “to choose” the date he wanted to go. Regardless of the day, Francis said he wanted to make the visit “privately, alone, as a priest, as a bishop, as Pope, but alone, that's how I want to do it. I would like to be close to the people.” Close to 300 people were killed when a 6.2-magnitude quake hit the town of Norcia Aug. 24, at 3:36a.m. with several strong aftershocks following. Out of those who died, more than 230 were from Amatrice. At one point after the initial quake, the mayor of Amatrice, one of the worst-hit areas, said “the town is gone.”

The day of the earthquake Pope Francis was scheduled to hold his weekly general audience, however, instead of giving his usual catechesis, he put the speech aside and led those present in praying a rosary for the victims of the earthquake. In his Aug. 28 Angelus address, the Pope expressed his “spiritual closeness to the inhabitants of Lazio, delle Marche and Umbria, which have been greatly affected by the recent earthquake.” He offered special closeness to the people of Amatrice, Accumoli, Arquata and Pescara del Tronto and Norcia, telling them that “the Church shares their suffering and their concern.”

Rumors have circulated in the media saying that Pope Francis could stop in Assisi while on his way back to the Vatican to mark the Oct. 4 feast his namesake, St. Francis of Assisi, but it has yet to be confirmed.