Pope Francis – landmark visit to Italy’s Lampedusa Island

From: http://www.unhcr.org

, 8 July 2013

© EPA/A.Tarantino
Pope Francis talks to migrants from Africa at the pier where they stepped ashore onto Italy’s Lampedusa Island.

LAMPEDUSA ISLAND, Italy, July 8 .. Pope Francis, during a highly symbolic visit to Italy’s Lampedusa Island on Monday, called for understanding and solidarity for the thousands of people who risk their lives every year on the high seas to reach Europe and prayed for those who lost their lives in the attempt.

Hours before his arrival, a small boat carrying 166 people of various nationalities had reached the island, 120 kilometres from Tunisia. The Italian coastguard reportedly rescued another boat carrying 120 people, including a pregnant woman, on Sunday.

The Pope met a group of 50 recently arrived migrants, mainly young Somali and Eritrean men, during his first pastoral visit outside Rome since being elected as pontiff in March. “Let’s pray for those who did not make it,” he told them.

One man from Eritrea told Pope Francis why he had left his home and described his ordeal during the crossing. He asked that Europe give him assistance. Migrants arriving on Lampedusa are normally taken to reception centres on the mainland to ease the burden on the island, whose resident population is just 6,000 people.

Before meeting the migrants, Pope Francis had boarded an Italian coastguard vessel and cast a floral wreath into the sea off Lampedusa in memory of those who have died during the attempted crossing from North Africa. He then visited the pier where the boatpeople reach land after their arduous and dangerous journey.

The Pope next held an open air mass attended by thousands of locals, tourists and migrants. A small wooden fishing boat served as the altar, a ship’s wheel was on the lectern and the cross held by the Pope had been fashioned from wood taken from a run-down boat that had brought one group to Lampedusa.

He told the congregation that he had been moved to come to the island after learning that at least 10 people had died when their boat foundered on June 17. He thanked the local population for their solidarity and also thanked associations and authorities who work to assist migrants.

The Pope called for more understanding for those who flee their homes in search of hope and a better place for their families, and while doing so put their lives at risk and often in the hands of smugglers. Pope Francis cautioned against the indifference shown towards the suffering of migrants.

UNHCR Regional Representative Laurens Jolles said the Pope’s visit had significant humanitarian and symbolic value. “During his first months as Pope, we have had the chance to appreciate his attention towards refugees and migrants,” he said, adding: “We are glad that he could meet a group of migrants, who explained the reasons why they were forced to flee and the dangers of their journey.”

The Pope has long been a strong advocate for the rights of refugees and asylum-seekers. On June 19, the eve of World Refugee Day, he called on people and governments to give special consideration to the situation of refugee families.

“We cannot be insensitive to these families or towards our refugee brothers and sisters. We are called to help them, opening ourselves to understanding and hospitality. May there be no lack of people and institutions around the world to assist them,” he said.

© ANSA/C.Fusco
Pope Francis during the open air mass. The altar is a small fishing boat and he holds a cross made from wood taken from one of the boats used to bring migrants across the Mediterranean.

UNHCR estimates that approximately 8,400 migrants and asylum-seekers landed on the coasts of Italy and Malta in the first six months of this year. The majority, 7,800, arrived in Italy. Most making the journey left from North Africa, principally Libya (around 6,700 people). The remaining 1,700 crossed from Greece and Turkey, landing in southern Italy’s Apulia and Calabria regions.

Countries in Sub-Saharan Africa are the main places of origin of these migrants and asylum-seekers, particularly Somalia and Eritrea. Other countries of origin include Afghanistan, Egypt, Gambia, Mali, Pakistan and Syria.

UNHCR has recorded some 40 deaths in the first six months of 2013 by people attempting to cross to Italy from North Africa. In 2012, almost 500 people were reported dead or missing at sea. The decrease in deaths so far in 2013 is thanks in part to the efforts of the Italian and Maltese authorities

The UN refugee agency engages with all the world’s major religions in the cause of protection of the forcibly displaced and stateless. UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres last year held a dialogue in Geneva on faith and protection. Those attending

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6 Responses to Pope Francis – landmark visit to Italy’s Lampedusa Island

  1. johnhenrycn says:

    “The Pope called for more understanding for those who flee their homes in search of hope and a better place for their families, and while doing so put their lives at risk…”

    Which is why, in all the years (4) I’ve been blogging, I’ve never spoken angrily about Third Worlders who get to our shores by hook or by crook. I do understand the serious danger attending unrestricted immigration. I do endorse vigilant efforts to control immigration, and I endorse, with qualifications, the repatriation of people who arrive illegally; but that’s a far cry from calling them barbarians at the gates. 99% are people trying to escape suffering, not low lifes, not vermin.

    I didn’t need Pope Francis to tell me this, but sadly, too many of us First Worlders do.

    Like

  2. Toad says:

    The ironic thing is, that around where I live in Northern Spain, new young people are what’s needed. Whole villages in Castilla Leon are now lived in by dwindling handfuls of old people.
    But somehow it can’t be organised.
    Racial prejudice does come into it.

    Like

  3. Toad says:

    Is Lampedusa in danger of becoming “overpopulated”?
    “Migrants arriving on Lampedusa are normally taken to reception centres on the mainland to ease the burden on the island, whose resident population is just 6,000 people.”
    and JH says, “I do understand the serious danger attending unrestricted immigration. I do endorse vigilant efforts to control immigration,” Well, what is that serious danger?
    I’m not saying there isn’t a danger, I just don’t know what it is.
    Overstrained existing resources? “Wrong” sort of people? “Overpopulation” in a specific area?
    Catholics are frequently very insistent that Planet Earth in not overpopulated, and give cogent reasons why this is the case.
    Reasons which probably do not go down very well in Somalia, for example.
    Ought Pope Francis tell the world what needs to happen to resolve this issue?
    He’d clearly like something positive to be done. But what?

    Like

  4. Frere Rabit says:

    Interesting fishing boat altar… After the “Pinocchio Mass”, is this the “Popeye Mass”?

    Like

  5. Brother Burrito says:

    Fishing boat, Sea of Galilee, St Peter, casting nets, fishers of men.

    Popeye (good guy), Olive Oyle, Garden of Gethsemane, oil of gladness.

    Good point Rabit.

    Like

  6. Brother Burrito says:

    Don’t you get it yet Toad?

    The Catholic Church is all about producing “new” “young” people.

    Grace renews and changes people for the better. The Church is God’s means to administer Grace to the human race.

    Like

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