Pope Francis met privately Wednesday evening with refugee survivors of a shipwreck that took place off the Italian island of Lampedusa last October.
Around 370 people, most of them Eritrean and Syrian asylum-seekers, drowned on Oct. 3, 2013 when their smugglers' boat capsized close to the Italian island which is often a destination of refugees seeking asylum from Africa.
The Pope met at the Vatican about 50 survivors of the tragedy, most of them now living in northern Europe. They will travel to Lampedusa today to call for an international day of remembrance for the thousands who perish at sea each year trying to reach Europe.
Speaking to them yesterday, the Pope said: “Words are not enough to describe what you have suffered, this can only be contemplated in silence, with tears and by trying to find a way to be close to you”.
He also called on the men and women of Europe to “open the doors of their hearts” and welcome migrants who risk their lives at sea to flee war and poverty.
The Pope said the lives of people who need to migrate is “hard, and when there are tragedies on this journey of migration, it becomes even harder.”
He also acknowledged that even when refugees reach their desired destination, “even harsher realities arise, very often doors are closed, and you do not know where to go.”
Vatican Radio reports that two refugees addressed the Pope on behalf of the delegation, thanking the Holy Father for his various efforts on behalf of migrants and asylum seekers and asking for his continued support. They highlighted the pressing issue of the identification of the lost at sea.
The delegation presented Pope Francis with an iron sculpture of a bottle adrift at sea, containing a family instead of a message. The delegation was organized by the "Committee on October 3," chaired by Tareke Brhane, and was accompanied by Archbishop Konrad Krajewski, Papal Almoner, and Fr. Giovanni Lamanna, former President of the Astalli Center.
A bill has been presented before the Italian parliament proposing October 3 as the "World Day in Memory of Victims at Sea".
Here below is the full text of the Holy Father’s words to the October 3 delegation.
“Thank you for your visit, thank you very much for coming.
I find it difficult to speak to you because I don’t know what to say. I cannot express what I feel, because words are not enough to describe what you have suffered, this can only be contemplated in silence, with tears and by trying to find a way to be close to you.
I have listened closely to your requests, and, for my part, I will do everything possible of what you have asked.
I asked Father Giovanni to help you, and I also asked Father Corrado to be close to you, in a sign of my closeness and that of the Church of Rome and so many men and women who feel this tragedy.
The lives of people who need to migrate is hard, and when there are tragedies on this journey of migration, it becomes even harder, and when the end for those who have managed to reach a safe harbor seems certain then other even harsher realities arise, very often doors are closed, and you do not know where to go.
There are many men and women here in Italy who have an open heart for you. It’s most important that the doors to hearts are open in times like these…. I ask all the men and women of Europe to open the doors of their hearts. Behind, there are memories, there is the homeland and there are the dead.
The migrant cannot forget this, it is part of his life, there are his ancestors, his History, his Homeland and also his dead, and you have asked to at least be allowed collect their bodies... ..
Let me just say to you that I am close to you, I pray for you, I pray for closed hearts that they may open. And everything that I have available to me, is available to you.
I would like you to feel this welcome, which is not only mine but of the many people who care for you.
Do not doubt, we are with you. Thank you.”