By Bishop Kevin J. Farrell
Before his much publicized journey to Rio de Janeiro for World Youth Day, Pope Francis’ first trip outside of Rome received much less media coverage but was a truly significant event. On July 8 the Holy Father flew without fanfare or entourage to the Italian island of Lampedusa, a speck in the Mediterranean west of Tunisia and south of Sicily.
Occasioned by the drowning of 31 Muslim men, women and children, whose motorized rubber raft capsized while seeking to gain refuge in Europe, the Holy Father’s trip cast the spotlight on the huge influx of refugees from African countries.
Upon reaching the island, the pope said, “I first heard of this tragedy a few weeks ago and realized that it happens all too frequently. It has constantly come back to me like a painful thorn in my heart. So I felt that I had to come here today to pray and to offer a sign of my closeness, but also to challenge our consciences lest this tragedy be repeated. Please, let it not be repeated!”
More than 4,500 African immigrants have reached Lampedusa the past year and no one knows the number who perished in the sea on their journey to hope. Thanking the volunteers and local civic and church officials for their efforts to aid the immigrants, Pope Francis observed “You are so few, and yet you offer an example of solidarity!”
Speaking to those present, he continued, “These brothers and sisters of ours were trying to escape difficult situations to find some serenity and peace. They were looking for a better place for themselves and their families, but instead they found death. How often do such people fail to find understanding, fail to find acceptance, and fail to find solidarity? And their cry rises up to God!”
Decrying the “globalization of indifference,” Pope Francis feared that “We are a society which has forgotten how to weep, how to experience compassion – ‘suffering with’ others.” He added “Let us ask the Lord for the grace to weep over our indifference, to weep over the cruelty of our world, of our own hearts, and of all those who in anonymity make social and economic decisions which open the door to tragic situations like this. Has any one wept? Today has anyone wept in our world?”
In closing the Pope prayed for “forgiveness for those who by their decisions on the global level have created situations that lead to these tragedies.”
In deliberating immigration reform, Congress might well reflect upon the Holy Father’s words at Lampedusa.