Where is God in Suffering?

by Brendan Purcell, Veritas, £10.95

I was well into reading my friend Fr Brendan Purcell’s beautiful book on suffering when the earthquake struck in central Italy. Although more than 60 miles away, most people in Rome were woken at 3:40 in the morning on August 24 as the buildings shook. I turned on the light to make sure I wasn’t imagining things and the lamp in the centre of my room was swaying from side to side. I was tempted to go and stand in the doorway but the movement ceased after a couple of minutes.

At the epicentre of Amatrice they were not so lucky, as the entire ancient village of houses, built before the anti-earthquake regulations were drawn up, was thrown down and collapsed into rubble. Later I realised that this was the place where spaghetti Amatriciana was first created – and two euros from every plate sold in Italy is now going to the earthquake appeal. Other villages were also destroyed completely and about 300 people died.

Norcia, the birthplace of St Benedict in 480 AD and his sister St Scholastica (and, much earlier, the Emperor Vespasian, who helped destroy Jerusalem in 70 AD) escaped more lightly. Although it, too, was above one of the epicentres, Norcia benefited both from the building regulations introduced by Pope Pius IX in 1869 in one of his last decisions before the end of the Papal States, and from following the subsequent construction requirements. The earthquake caused no deaths there.

The saints’ birthplace is marked by a Benedictine monastery on the town square and, while the chapel was extensively damaged, the buildings remained standing. The young community of about 15 monks, mainly from the United States and led by Fr Cassian Folsom, was evacuated to Rome as a precaution.

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