In a sign of solidarity to the migrants who come into Europe, Pope Francis travelled to the Italian island of Lampedusa, located roughly 75 miles from the coast of Tunisia. Thousands of African migrants enter Italy through the island, risking their lives in the treacherous voyage across the sea.
Prior to arriving to the island via ferry, Pope Francis laid a wreath in the sea to commemorate the almost 20,000 people who have lost their lives trying to enter the country. Upon landing in Lampedusa, the Holy Father met and listened to a group of migrants who recounted their experience to him.
“I thank you for this welcome, all of us together today will pray for each other and also for those who are not here with us today. Thank you,” the Pope said upon his arrival.
A representative of the migrants, speaking in Arabic, recounted the experiences of those searching for a better life outside their native lands.
“First of all, we thank the Holy Father for his visit,” the representative said. “We would like him to resolve our problem. We fled our country for two reasons: political and economic. To arrive here, in this tranquil place, we overcame many obstacles; we were kidnapped by many traffickers. To arrive here, also again in Libya, we have suffered greatly.”
“We would like the Holy Father’s help and we, after a long period of suffering, we have arrived here; we would like other countries to help us,” he continued. “Thank you for your collaboration and we thank God. We here are forced to remain in Italy because Italy has many refugees. We have stayed, we have digital fingerprints and for this we are forced to stay; we are very many migrants and we would like other European countries to help us.”
In an interview with Vatican Radio, Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, director of the Holy See Press Office, reflected on the significance of the Holy Father’s visit.
“The important thing is to understand the true significance of this day, which is – for the Pope – before all else a gesture of solidarity, a call to focus everyone’s attention on one of the grave problems of our time: that of forced migration caused by so many terrible motives, among which are the lack of liberty, hunger, many other problems that make migrants’ lives in their native lands extremely difficult and even impossible,” Fr. Lombardi said.
After his arrival, the Holy Father celebrated an open air mass in Lampedusa, which was attended by an estimated 10,000 people.