L'AQUILA, Italy - Pope Benedict comforted survivors of Italy's earthquake Tuesday and asked God to heed the silent cry of its victims rising from the earth.

During a four-hour visit to the central Italian region devastated on April 6, he called for a serious examination of conscience about the destruction caused by the quake, some of which has been blamed on shoddy construction.

The pope visited a tent city and consoled survivors, many of whom lost everything in the quake that killed nearly 300 people and left some 63,000 homeless.

In the regional capital of L'Aquila, which took the brunt of the tremor, he visited the destroyed basilica and prayed at the ruins of the university dormitory where eight students died.

L'Aquila means eagle in Italian and the pope said: This way, L'Aquila, even though it is wounded, will be able to fly again.

Speaking to officials and volunteers in the grounds of a police academy that has become the headquarters for relief efforts, the pope touched on one of the most controversial issues arising from the disaster.

Magistrates have opened investigations into why some modern buildings, including L'Aquila hospital, were severely damaged even though they were supposed to have been built according to strict anti-quake regulations.

There has to be a serious examination of conscience so that the level of responsibility, at any moment, is not lacking, he said to applause.


Investigators suspect that inferior quality sand and steel may have been used in some of the recent construction by builders who wanted to save money.

Benedict began his visit in the devastated village of Onna. Bad weather forced him to scrap plans to fly by helicopter to the area east of Rome and he was driven instead to the village that has been left completely uninhabitable.

Speaking under a light drizzle in a tent town for Onna's survivors, he read a haunting prayer: It is the silent cry of the blood of mothers, fathers, little innocent children that rises up from this earth.

In a tent where the villagers of Onna brought broken statues and religious paintings damaged in the quake, residents prayed in what is now their church.

It's difficult to pray in a tent but we do it with so much love, said Giovanni Paoletti, 48, who lost his mother-in-law and nephew.

We hope to be able to return to the old church, to bring these statues back to where they belong. We dream of a normal life, to start living again.