Vatican City, Jan 5, 2017 / 11:22 am (CNA/EWTN News).- During an audience with people from the areas devastated by earthquakes in Central Italy, Pope Francis emphasized the need to move forward with hope, closeness and solidarity, rather than a false sense of optimism.

“The pain is great...the wounds of the heart are there,” the Pope told thousands of people gathered in the Vatican's Paul VI Hall for the Jan. 5 audience. He recalled how when visiting the earthquake zones in October he met the sister and parents of a little boy who was crushed under the rubble, as well as a couple who had lost their small twins.

“Now I meet you who have lost the center of your families,” he said, explaining that while the process of rebuilding is important, it's not something superficial. Rebuilding the heart, above all, is not the rosy idea that “tomorrow will be better, it isn't optimism,” he said, adding that “there’s no room for optimism here.” While an optimistic attitude is useful for brief moments to energize or to carry a person forward, “it’s not substantial,” he said, noting that what is needed above all is hope. “Yes for hope, but no for optimism...Today hope is needed to rebuild, which is done with your hands.”

Pope Francis met with thousands of individuals and families from the towns devastated when a 6.2-magnitude quake hit the town of Norcia, about 65 miles northeast of Rome, Aug. 24, killing nearly 300 people. Most of the victims were from the town of Amatrice, known for being the birthplace of the common “Amatriciana” pasta dish.

During the audience, Pope Francis listened to two testimonies and took notes, tossing his prepared speech and speaking off-the-cuff to the families, many of whom are still without homes. In his speech, Francis said when he woke up the morning of the quake and saw the news, he felt both the need to go to the people in the area, as well as “a lot of pain. And with this pain I went to celebrate Mass that day.”

After setting his speech aside, the Pope took words and phrases mentioned by the two men who gave their testimonies — a husband and father named Raffaele, and a parish priest named Fr. Luciano — and offered his own reflection on them. “I wanted to take your words and make them mine,” he said, adding that in their situation, “the worst thing you can do is give a sermon! It’s the worst. So I wanted to take what your hearts said and make it my own and say it with you.”

The Pope first turned to the importance of “rebuilding,” which was the focus on Raffaele's testimony, specifically the need to “rebuild hearts even before houses. To rebuild the social and human fabric.” Starting again doesn't mean staying rooted in one's pain or letting it consume, but rather moving forward and allowing oneself to “rebuild that pain” into something new, he said, adding “no letting oneself be.”

He then turned to the image of hands, specifically of how hands were used to embrace loved ones, to guide them to safety and to free people from the rubble. In order to really rebuild, both the “heart and the hands” are necessary, he said, pointing to the hands “with which God, like an artisan, made the world. The hands that heal.” Francis said he always likes to bless the hands of doctors and nurses, because they are used to heal people, and pointed to the hands of the many people who have helped the quake victims “to go out of this nightmare, this pain.”

At times the thought of asking “why?” comes to mind, he said, but noted that there are some questions “that don’t have an answer.” Turning to the testimony given by the priest, Pope Francis recalled how in his speech Fr. Luciano said that despite the devastation, many people chose to stay in order “to not hurt our land not hurt more what is already wounded.”

Focusing on the word “wound,” the Pope noted that “everyone has suffered something,” whether it is the loss of a house, parent or child. In these instances, “the tenderness of the heart” expressed in “silence and in caresses” helps to not make the wound worse, he said. However, he pointed to how this tenderness also “makes miracles in the moment of pain,” noting that there were also moments of reconciliation between people, who put their differences aside and came together in a moment of suffering through a hug, a kiss and even through tears. “Crying only does good; it’s an expression to ourselves and to God,” he said, but added that “crying together is better.”

Pope Francis then pointed to how in his testimony, Raffaele said that while his family is safe, “our life is not the same” after the quake. “It’s true, we came out healthy, but we lost. Saved, but defeated,” Francis said, noting that “the wounds heal, but the scars will remain forever. And they will be a reminder of this moment of pain” and that things will never be like they were before.

However, the Pope also highlighted the virtues Fr. Luciano said he saw in the people after the earthquake. The priest said he was especially moved by the “fortitude, patience and mutual solidarity of my people.” Francis said that just as Fr. Luciano was proud of his people, he is also proud of the priests in the area who chose to stay, rather than abandoning their people and their land in a time of need. “This is good, to have pastors who when they see a wolf don't run away. We lost, yes, we lost many things; houses, families, but we have become a great family in another way.”

The Pope closed his speech by focusing on the importance of closeness, explaining that to stay close to one another “makes us more human, good people, more courageous.” He also told the people not to lose the ability to dream in the process of rebuilding, urging them to have “the courage to dream one more time” as they move forward.