The experience of tragedy and loss can help Christians become a consoling presence for others in need of hope and consolation, Pope Francis said.

Meeting at the Vatican with a group of Poor Clare nuns from the Monastery of St. Clare in Paganica, near L’Aquila, the pope chose to set aside his prepared address April 26 and speak privately with them, the Vatican said.

In his prepared remarks, the pope recalled the suffering the community endured after a devastating earthquake that struck central Italy in 2009, injuring an estimated 1,000 people and killing nearly 300, including Mother Gemma Antonucci, the abbess of the monastery.

“God made you emerge from that tragedy strengthened and, like the grain of wheat that must die in order to bear fruit, so has it been for your monastic community,” the pope wrote in his address, which he handed to the sisters.

Besides experiencing great pain and loss, the pope said, also experienced “the loving care of your heavenly Father and the solidarity of so many people.”

“On that night, you lost everything except God and fraternity. From these two solid points, you set out again with courage,” he said.

The Poor Clare’s efforts to rebuild their monastery “is a message you have given to the people” of the region, he said. “In the face of tragedy, it is necessary to start anew from God and from fraternal solidarity. Thank you so much for this.”

Pope Francis encouraged the nuns to continue to be “a prayerful and consoling presence” to the people who have been “sorely tried by the terrible experience and are still in need of comfort and encouragement.”

“Faithful to the charism received from St. Clare and St. Francis, respond with generosity to the desire that God has placed in your hearts, living your lives as consecrated women in total adherence to the Gospel,” the pope said.