Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, in Rome this week to promote trade and other ties with Italy, first appealed to the heart of the country by visiting Amatrice, a tiny town still struggling to recover from a devastating earthquake.
“It’s an opportunity to share our thoughts, our condolences, our sympathies, but also demonstrate our resolve to accompany our friends in this difficult time,” Trudeau said Sunday as he stood below a clock tower, the only structure standing on a street lined with rubble.
That clock is stopped at 3:36 — the time in the morning the 6.2-magnitude quake hit the area in central Italy about 100 kilometres northeast of Rome on Aug. 24, 2016, killing some 300 people, including one Canadian.
Many of them were children, and signs of their presence, including an illustrated cloth book and a inflatable pool toy, could be seen among the rocks, dust and other rubble piled high.
Efforts to rebuild the town, which includes many heritage buildings from medieval times, have been moving slowly.
Italian-Canadians want to help
The Italian-Canadian community has been trying to bring more attention to that fact, raising money to help pay for things like medical vehicles needed to navigate the mountainous terrain.
Those efforts got a boost May 12 when Trudeau appeared at a fundraiser that also featured Sergio Marchionne, the CEO of Fiat Chrysler who was born in Italy but went to school in Canada.
Trudeau announced there that the Canadian government would match up to $2 million in donations to the Italy Earthquake Relief Fund.
That drew sharp criticism from Conservative MP Maxime Bernier, who was nearing the end of the leadership race he ultimately lost to Andrew Scheer.
At the time, Bernier took to Twitter to say that he loves Italy, but it is a rich country that can afford to rebuild without money from Canadian taxpayers, which he argued should have gone to help more victims of the floods in Quebec and eastern Ontario.
Canadian aid for Amatrice
The money will go towards humanitarian aid in the area, which is still experiencing tremors.
The prime minister arrived in the town via an Italian government helicopter and was greeted warmly with a long embrace by the local mayor, Sergio Pirozzi.
His wife, Sophie Grégoire Trudeau, joined him for the visit, which followed his trip to Brussels and Taormina, Sicily for the NATO and G7 summits.
In Amatrice, they surveyed the damage while wearing hard hats, spoke to residents, emergency responders and others working to rebuild the town.
They also laid a bouquet of flowers at a memorial to the victims.
Meeting with Pope Francis
The couple, who are also celebrating their wedding anniversary with a private supper in Rome, will meet Pope Francis Monday at the Vatican.
There, Trudeau is planning to ask the religious leader to visit Canada and issue a formal apology for the role the Catholic Church played in the residential school system.
A papal apology was one of the 94 recommendations in the final report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission issued in 2015.
As Liberal leader, Trudeau promised to implement them all.