Pope on Lampedusa: ‘I hope people understand’

Pope Francis makes sign of cross after tossing wreath into Mediterranean Sea off Italian island of Lampedusa

Pope Francis makes the sign of cross after tossing wreath into Mediterranean Sea in remembrance of those who have died trying to reach Italy. (CNS/Paul Haring)

VATICAN CITY — “I hope people understand the meaning of this gesture,” Pope Francis told his aides after arriving in Lampedusa yesterday.

In what the Vatican newspaper described as the first pastoral trip of his pontificate, Pope Francis knew his arrival would create the climate of a celebration, said Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, Vatican spokesman. But that wasn’t the point.

“For the pope, the most important thing was and remains — as he said in his homily — the important and significant gesture of ‘weeping for those who died seeking a better life,’” the spokesman told reporters after the pope had returned to Rome.

To emphasize he was there to mourn the dead and to encourage everyone around the world to examine their consciences about how they directly or indirectly contribute to the world’s immigration flux, to making immigrant journeys more difficult and to withholding a welcome that recognizes their human dignity, Pope Francis wore the purple vestments of repentance and used the prayers from the Mass for the Forgiveness of Sins, Father Lombardi said.

The Jesuit said the locals had laid out a feast for the pope’s lunch — “with everything under the sun,” but the pope “took three or four little things, a sandwich, and was ready to leave. His simplicity never changes.”

While the visit was to an Italian island where thousands of refugees and migrants have landed over the past 25 years — and which an estimated 20,000 have died trying to reach in that period — the pope’s words of  solidarity and encouragement were not limited to those who cross the Mediterranean or the Italians who help them once they arrive. Nor did he limit his strong words about immigration policies to the Italian government or the leaders of the European Union.

The Lampedusa trip allowed the pope — the son of immigrants to Argentina — “to express to the whole world in an immediate and effective way, in a visible way, his deep concern” for the plight of immigrants everywhere, Father Lombardi said.

Whether they cross an ocean, a sea, a desert or a river — and especially when they often feel forced to pay exorbitant fees to unscrupulous traffickers — immigrants deserve a dignified welcome and assistance in building a better life for themselves and their families, Father Lombardi said.

The Catholic Church does not question the right and responsibility of nations to regulate immigration, but it also insists that people have a right to seek safety, survival and improved living conditions outside their country of birth.

Pope walks past a boat as he arrives for Mass yesterday in Lampedusa. (CNS/Paul Haring)

Pope walks past a boat as he arrives for Mass yesterday in Lampedusa. (CNS/Paul Haring)

Father Lombardi said the pope saw his visit to Lampedusa as a way to call the world to “solidarity with all those who suffer” while migrating; “solidarity and encouragement for those who are committed to welcoming them and helping them start over on the path to a better life; and of strong encouragement for those, especially on a leadership level, who can find ways to create the conditions needed so that these people who have suffered so much really can have this better life.”

The pope’s visit came just 10 days after the U.S. Senate passed an immigration reform bill and Los Angeles Archbishop Jose H. Gomez urged the House of Representatives to do the same. In a speech in Denver earlier in June he had said, “For me, our national debate about immigration is a great struggle for the American spirit and the American soul. Immigration is a human rights test of our generation.”

Citing statistics that showed more than 1 million people have been deported from the United States during the past four years, Archbishop Gomez added: “We’re talking about souls, not statistics. We’re talking about fathers who, without warning, won’t be coming home for dinner tonight — and who may not see their families again for a decade. We’re talking about women suddenly left as single mothers to raise their children in poverty.”

A statement today from Caritas Internationalis, the Vatican-based umbrella organization for national Catholic charities around the world, highlighted a joint effort by a variety of faith-based organizations to ensure greater protection of refugees and to remind people of faith of their religious obligation to welcome the stranger.

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15 Responses to Pope on Lampedusa: ‘I hope people understand’

  1. Martina says:

    The immigrants are illegal immigrants, mostly muslim and male who have landed on Lampedasa over the past 25 vears. To me ist seems that by this gesture the Pope encourages illegal immigration.

  2. James Nowak says:

    Why are these people leaving Libya?

  3. Cindy Wooden says:

    The boats leave from Libya. During the turmoil in 2011 that accompanied the Arab spring, many of those trying to cross the sea were from the North African countries involved. But before that and currently, most are from sub-Saharan Africa – Somalia, Eritrea, but also Mali and Gambia. Others arriving in Lampedusa come from Pakistan and Syria. They travel long distances and face serious dangers as they try to get to Libya where they pay for a place on a rickety boat.
    See this link from the U.N. Refugee Agency:

  4. Andrew says:

    Papa Francis is not encouraging illegal immigration. The article clearly states “he was there to mourn the dead and to encourage everyone around the world to examine their consciences about how they directly or indirectly contribute to the world’s immigration flux.”

  5. Paul says:

    If Pope Francis was not there to encourage illegal immigration, why did he go to a place which is most the most notorious spots in Europe for illegal Muslim immigration? Why did he offer no sympathy for the Catholic people of Lampedusa, primarily small fishermen and workers, whose home is overrun with ten of thousands of illegal immigrants whose presence stretches every public and private facility to the breaking point? When he gets into his private plane to return to Rome, what tangible improvement has he made to the situation?

  6. John Two Dogs says:

    Would it be okay if they weren’t Muslims? How does a gesture of Christian kindness encourage illegal immigration?

  7. John Two Dogs says:

    My friend couldn’t hire locals to work at his dairy for $14.00 hour starting at 3 am. Had to hire two workers from Guatemala. God bless you Pope Francis.

  8. Elizabeth says:

    How many of us are actually descended from immigrants. Personally I am of Irish extraction with my mother being brought from Ireland when she was young to escape the troubles. USA, Australia and Canada to name three are made up predominantly of immigrant extraction. The Holy Father mourns the death of people who are fleeing unstable environments, Trying to give their families better lives, I can’t see any difference than the original immigrants to the USA and Canada, Australia was of course a penal colony.

  9. Christy says:

    The Holy Father is not encouraging illegal immigration. He is asking us to mourn with him and to examine our own consciences and hearts perhaps so that unjust immigration laws can be amended. There is no justice in a human being (who is infinitely loved by God from all eternity) dying while trying to escape horrible living conditions. There must be a better way to help these people find a dignified way of life. I for one have never missed a meal or anything else because an immigrant came to my country. What do any of us have that we haven’t received? (Cf 1 Cor 4:7) How is it then that we so often act as if all that we have is something of our own creation rather than a gift? The least we can do is pray for and work toward just laws and governments that allow for the least among us to live with dignity.

  10. Molly Moran says:

    Australian people seem to be generous but politicians are outdoing each other in cruel policies about boat people from Indonesia. The Christian church has an organisational structure that could easily settle one family per parish but leadership is lacking. Thank God for Pope Francis! He doesn’t ask about race or gender or religious belief.

  11. Thank god for Pope Francis- our laws need to be changed. Just ask yourself -what would Jesus do!

  12. LorenT says:

    Indeed we are ALL immigrants. How prideful of us sinners to claim anything on this earth as ours when it was GOD Himself who put us in our mother’s womb of Eden to begin with! Another thing that needs to mention is “how quickly” we criticize when we haven’t truly “eat the heart” of the message. If we consider that it is worth our time to read an article/news/anything, then be humble to truly “read” it before putting any beneficial critics down online. Come Holy Spirit!

  13. Richard says:

    The Church also needs to address who is going to pay for all these immigrants. It also needs to address the leadership of nations where these immigrants are coming from. It also needs to remind people of Biblical instruction about being responsible and working and earning ones way.

  14. Richard says:

    I am told that some Roman Catholic and other Christian groups are aiding and abetting illegal immigrants to elude a nations laws and obtain entitlements such as food stamps etc. If this is so, such groups are committing crimes against those who are legal and who earn their way.

  15. digdigby1 says:

    What a stab in the back. The people of Lampedusa. The Italian and Catholic people of Lampedusa have seen their small lovely island destroyed, overrun with violence, crime and their small but vital tourist business on which they depend ruined. The government of Italy has forcibly made this lovely and ancient island with its distinctive culture into an immense transit camp full of alien Muslims who terrorize the locals, burn down buildings, make all kinds of absurd demands. What ‘charity’ to come here and tell the people to give away their lives and homes because it is the ‘nice’ thing to do.

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