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Sicilians appeal to Virgin Mary to calm Mount Etna

Thousands of Sicilians gathered at a shrine to the Virgin Mary at the foot of Mount Etna on Sunday to appeal to the Madonna to intervene to halt the volcano's eruptions.

"The more our prayers are ardent, the more the lava coming from the volcano will be cooled," said Luigi Bonmarito, Archbishop of Catania, told the worshippers at the open-air service in the village of Belpasso.

"We are here to implore the Madonna to give us the faith, the hope and the courage to confront our difficulties," he said, amid the far-off sounds of explosions from Etna. The service was preceded by a procession.

Belpasso, a pilgrimage site in Sicily, is home to the shrine of the Virgin of the Rock, also known as the Virgin of Peace. "The Madonna appeared here, standing on a rock, to a young boy for the first time on 11 May 1986 and the last time on 1 May 1988," said Maria Domenica, a member of the Catholic movement 'Regina Pacis'.

A statue of the Virgin Mary has since been erected on the bloc of lava where the boy says he saw the image.

Etna has been spewing lava for the past two weeks, and workers on Sunday continued to use earth-movers to try and redirect the flow away from inhabited areas.

Archdiocese of Catania