Reflection for August 2013
In July 2013 Pope Frances took off for his first visit outside the Vatican to the small island of Lampedusa, about half-way between the southern Italian coast and the Tunisian coast of North Africa. It is the place that many “boat people” crossing the dangerous waters of the Mediterranean want to reach. Many, hoping to escape their own countries in overcrowded and unsafe boats, have drowned on the way. In 2012, five hundred people were reported dead or missing by the UN. This year, forty people are known to have died
Lampedusa, with an area of less than 8 square miles and a population of about 5,000, has given these desperate people a warm welcome reacting with generosity and tolerance towards the migrants. Most protests have been directed at the authorities’ failure to provide them with sufficient resources.
Wearing vestments of penitential purple, Francis said he had decided to come to the island after learning of a recent incident in which migrants had died while attempting the crossing from north Africa. The thought of their suffering had come back to him repeatedly like “a thorn in the heart”, he said.
The Pope praised the Italian coastguards and revenue guards who have plucked thousands to safety, and also the Lampedusans themselves. “You offered an example of solidarity,” he told them. He condemned the rich world for its lack of concern for their suffering describing it as a “globalisation of indifference.” He asked pardon for “those, whose decisions at a global level have created the conditions which have led us to this drama” and declared: “We have become used to the suffering of others. It doesn’t affect us. It doesn’t interest us. It’s not our business.” Harsh words for us to hear. Are we among the indifferent, not caring, dismissive because we are tired of hearing about asylum seekers and refugees? Or do we stand with the Lampedusan islanders, happy to give them welcome out of a sense of human solidarity?
Hospitality has always been the mark of a good citizen and the mark of every religious human being. We are familiar with the story of desert dweller Abraham’s hospitality to the three guests, (Gen 18) and it is a Christian precept too. What a relief at the end of a long, dangerous and physically demanding journey, to receive a friendly welcome and a reassuring smile. Would we not all long for that?
You shall love the stranger, for you were once strangers in the land of Egypt. Deuteronomy 10: 19
You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbour as yourself. Luke 10:27