“Welcome Big Chief”. These words – written in pencil – greeted Grand Master Fra’ Matthew Festing upon his arrival in Bomporto, in the province of Modena, struck by the earthquakes of 20 and 29 May. The volunteers of the Order of Malta’s Italian Relief Corps (CISOM), have installed and are managing a camp on the playing field here, together with its military corps. Various buildings in the historic centre in Bomporto, including the town hall, are unusable. The 35-metre furnace chimney, symbol of this town with its 10,000 inhabitants, has been partially demolished since it threatened to collapse on the kindergarten below. Many homes have been damaged and declared uninhabitable.
The Grand Master, accompanied by CISOM high officers, was welcomed by the mayor of Bomporto to whom he talked at length. The Grand Master then greeted the volunteers and military personnel, after which he visited the camp and the some 200 people of various nationalities living there, including many children, of which the youngest, Excellence, is only three weeks old. The camp gives the sensation of being impeccably organized. The only exception is the tent which houses the children’s playroom: “We’ve tried to keep this tent in order,” the camp head Luigi di Iorio told the Grand Master, “but it’s practically impossible…”
In the tent housing the canteen all the members of this large family, brought together by the tragedy of the earthquake, gather around the Grand Master for a meal. Everyone is struggling to believe that the worst has passed, and in this respect the psychological support provided by the doctors of the Order’s Italian Relief Corps is all important. “We’ve handed out informative leaflets and talked to the camp’s inhabitants at various moments,” Dr. Pierluigi Policastro, head of CISOM’s team of psychologists, tells us. “At the mayor’s request we have extended this 24-hour service to all the people in Bomporto and in the surrounding towns. The main problem is the aftershocks, which continue to frighten people and prevent them from returning, albeit slowly, to normality”.
The Grand Master expressed his sympathy with words of comfort. “Just as we did after the earthquake in Abruzzo,” he said, “we will remain alongside the population until the emergency is over.”