Pope Francis condemns global indifference to suffering
Pope uses visit to island of Lampedusa to highlight plight of migrants and asylum seekers who die trying to reach Europe
In perhaps the sternest homily of his papacy so far, Pope Francis has inveighed against “the globalisation of indifference”.
Speaking on Monday on the small island of Lampedusa, the point of entry into Europe for tens of thousands of migrants and asylum seekers, Francis said: “We have become used to the suffering of others. It doesn’t affect us. It doesn’t interest us. It’s not our business.”
Wearing vestments of penitential purple, the pope said he had chosen to visit Lampedusa on his first journey out of the Vatican after learning of a recent incident in which migrants had died at sea while attempting to cross from north Africa. The thought of their suffering had come back to him repeatedly like “a thorn in the heart”, he said.
As his plane landed, more than 160 Eritreans were coming ashore in the port – the latest of almost 8,000 arrivals on Italy‘s southern coasts so far this year, according to UN figures. Another 40 are known to have died.
Using prayers for the remission of sins, the pope celebrated mass within sight of the “graveyard of wrecks”, where fishing boats carrying migrants and asylum seekers end up after they drift ashore, often having broken down at sea. He ended his sermon by asking for forgiveness “for the indifference towards so many of our brothers and sisters”.
But the pope also praised the contribution of Italian coastguard and revenue guard rescuers, and of the Lampedusans themselves. “You offered an example of solidarity,” he told them.
Though the treeless island, 70 miles off the African coast, has at times been turned into a refugee camp, most Lampedusans have reacted with generosity and tolerance to the migrants. Most of their protests have been directed at the authorities’ failure to provide them with sufficient resources.
A banner draped along the pope’s route read: “Welcome among the ultimi“, a word in Italian that has connotations of both furthest and least.
Dozens of local fishing boats accompanied the pope as he made his way from the airport to the port on board a coastguard patrol boat that has plucked thousands of migrants from the Mediterranean. Commemorating those who failed to reach safety, Francis, whose own grandparents emigrated from Italy, threw a wreath of flowers in the papal colours of yellow and white into the water.