This DICI commentary outlines the recent visit of Pope Francis to Lampedusa, what occured and various reactions.
On July 8, 2013, Pope Francis visited the Italian island of Lampedusa, situated between Sicily and Tunisia, where a multitude of immigrants from North Africa have found shelter for many years and in whose waters thousands of them have met their deaths. He was accompanied by a small delegation from the Vatican that included the Secretary of State’s substitute, Archbishop Angelo Becciu.
After being received by Archbishop Francesco Montenegro, archbishop of Agrigento, and Mme Giuseppina Nicolini, mayor of Lampedusa, he embarked at Cala Pisana for the port of Lampedusa, accompanied by the boats of the islands’ fishermen. For this first visit in Italy, the pope did not wish the civil and political authorities to accompany him any more than was necessary.
On the way, he threw into the sea a crown of yellow and white flowers in memory of those immigrants who have died in the Mediterranean. In silence, he blessed the sea with a sign of the cross. About 50 immigrants were waiting for him on the quay in Punta Favarolo, mostly Muslims who are being put up in Lampedusa’s welcome centers. The pope personally greeted each one of them, before going to the sports center Arena where he celebrated Mass.
The July 9 edition of Corriere della Serra wrote on a slightly embarrassed tone that the 50 immigrants had accepted to meet the pope on the condition that they would not have to assist at his Mass. On TV, the meeting with the immigrants was filmed from behind in order not to show their faces. The impression was that they remained very cold, for they did not wish to greet the pope with a handshake.
During his sermon—which progressivist historian Alberto Melloni has already compared to John XXIII’s opening discourse at Vatican II—Pope Francis asked the 10,000 faithful present: “Where is your brother?” repeating God’s question to Cain who had just killed his brother Abel. “This question is not put to others, but to me, to you, to each one of us,” he continued. And he insisted:
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, fail to find solidarity. And their cry rises up to God!"
“Who is responsible for this blood?” exclaimed the pope.
Today no one in our world feels responsible; we have lost a sense of responsibility for our brothers and sisters. We have fallen into the hypocrisy of the priest and the Levite whom Jesus described in the parable of the Good Samaritan."
“The culture of comfort, which makes us think only of ourselves, makes us insensitive to the cries of other people, makes us live in soap bubbles,” lamented the pope, denouncing several times the “globalization of indifference.” The Holy Father begged for a greater compassion towards the immigrants, pointing out that our society “has forgotten how to weep.”
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,"
During the sermon, Pope Francis greeted the Muslim immigrants, who were about to begin their Ramadan fast: “The Church is at your side as you seek a more dignified life for yourselves and your families.” He also thanked the inhabitants of Lampedusa for their “solidarity.” After the Mass, Pope Francis prayed to the Virgin Mary for the immigrants and begged God’s pardon for “the egoism of those who are indifferent to the needs and sufferings of their brothers.”
Pope Francis celebrated this Mass “for the remission of sins” in a violet chasuble. The altar was on a boat; the pope’s pastoral crozier, as well as the chalice he used for Mass, were made of wood salvaged from immigrants’ boats.
Commentaries on the pope’s visit
The pope’s surprise visit, announced scarcely a week in advanced, was inspired by the recent shipwreck of a boat carrying immigrants from Africa, which had “profoundly touched” the pope, explained the Holy See’s Press Office.
The news was greeted with joy by the mayor of Lampedusa, Giuseppina Nicolini, for, “not only Europe, but the whole world will now open their eyes to the drama of these immigrants.” Thus “Lampedusa will no longer be bearing alone an enormous, immeasurable weight, that rests for the moment upon the shoulders of 6,000 people,” wrote La Stampa on July 2.
With a few exceptions, such as that of the President of the Italian Chamber of Deputies, Laura Boldrini, who spoke of a “historic” visit, the Italian political class did not say a word. However, Fabrizio Cicchitto, deputy of Silvio Berlusconi’s Freedom Party, pointed out the difference between religious preaching and “the State’s management of as difficult, complex and insidious a phenomenon,” as immigration, characterized by the intervention of criminal groups. And he called for a “reasonable, serious and real” autonomy of the State with regards to the Church.
Unenthusiastic editorials appeared in Il Giornale and the newspaper Il Foglio under the pen of the director, Giuliano Ferrara. While he has for a long time been on the forefront of the struggle against abortion and for the promotion of Christian values in society, the journalist denounced “Francis’ error in Lampedusa” in his editorial. He defended globalization as the “root of hope” and the superiority of the Western model as the motive for the legitimate desire to emigrate.
(Sources: VIS/apic/imedia—DICI no. 279, 7-19-2013)