On July 8, 2013, at the beginning of his pontificate, Francis’ first visit outside Italy was to an island in the Mediterranean, where he decried the plight of migrants.
“Where is the blood of your brother?”
Ten years ago, on July 8, 2013, Pope Francis raised his voice from the Italian island of Lampedusa to decry the plight of migrants on the Mediterranean coast. The newly-elected Pontiff, who had chosen this destination for his first trip outside Rome, denounced “the globalization of indifference” in a homily that would remain emblematic of his pontificate. Here’s a look back at this trip, the precursor of many other initiatives on behalf of migrants.
[Article updated to include Pope Francis’ letter to bishop on the occasion of the anniversary, below.]
The death of innocents, mainly children, in search of a more serene existence, far from wars and violence, is a painful and deafening cry that cannot leave us indifferent.
On that summer Monday morning, the world’s media cameras were focused on a sparkling blue sea. A coast guard vessel, escorted by a fleet of fishing boats, was entering the port of Punta Favarolo. On board was the Head of the Catholic Church, who threw a wreath of yellow and white flowers into the sea. With hands clasped in prayer, he remembered all the lives that have been swallowed up by the waves as they tried to reach the European continent.
On landing, the Argentine Pontiff — himself the grandson of Italian emigrants — was greeted by a group of migrants on the quayside. He greeted them and exchanged handshakes before taking the papamobile to the “Arena” sports field, where he celebrated a penitential mass. There, before a lectern adorned with a rudder and an altar in the shape of a ship’s hull, he forcefully denounced the “deadening of the heart.”
“We have lost a sense of responsibility for our brothers and sisters,” lamented the 266th Pope, who called out to the crowd: “‘Where is your brother? His blood cries out to me,’ says the Lord. This is not a question directed to others; it is a question directed to me, to you, to each of us!”
The new Pontiff attacked the “culture of comfort, which makes us think only of ourselves, makes us insensitive to the cries of other people,” and “leads to the globalization of indifference.” This globalization of indifference “has taken from us the ability to weep,” laments Peter’s Successor, wishing for “the grace to weep over our indifference, to weep over the cruelty of our world, of our own hearts, and of all those who in anonymity make social and economic decisions which open the door to tragic situations like this.”
During that morning, as he would do tirelessly thereafter, Pope Francis pleaded for an awakening of consciences, “lest this tragedy be repeated.”
He has multiplied his initiatives on behalf of migrants, including two visits to the Greek island of Lesbos, from where he even brought emigrant families back on his plane.
A trip by the Pope to the island of Lampedusa had been planned for the 10th anniversary of the visit, a diplomatic source told I.MEDIA. However, the Pontiff’s state of health and busy schedule are said to have dissuaded him in the end.
Repetition of grave tragedies
On July 8, the Vatican released a letter send to the local bishop about the anniversary. Here is the text
Archbishop Alessandro Damiano of Agrigento
On the occasion of the commemoration of the tenth anniversary of the visit to Lampedusa, I wish to send to you, the faithful of the archdiocese, the authorities and those present my cordial greeting. I am close to you with affection, prayer and encouragement.
Dear friends, in these days in which we are witnessing the repetition of grave tragedies in the Mediterranean, we are shocked by the silent massacres before which we still remain helpless and stunned. The death of innocents, mainly children, in search of a more serene existence, far from wars and violence, is a painful and deafening cry that cannot leave us indifferent. It is the shame of a society that no longer knows how to mourn and pity others.
Ten years have passed since the journey I wished to make in the community of Lampedusa to express my support and paternal closeness to those who, after painful ordeals, at the mercy of the sea, landed on your shores. The occurrence of such inhuman disasters must utterly shake our consciences; God still asks us: “Adam, where are you? Where is your brother?” Do we want to persevere in error, to pretend to put ourselves in the place of the Creator, to dominate in order to protect our own interests, to break the constitutive harmony between Him and us? We must change our attitude; the brother who knocks at the door deserves love, hospitality and every care. He is a brother who, like me, has been placed on earth to enjoy what exists there and to share it in communion.
In such a context, we are all called to a renewed and profound sense of responsibility, showing solidarity and sharing. It is therefore necessary for the Church, in order to be truly prophetic, to make a diligent effort to set out on the paths of the forgotten, coming out of herself, soothing with the balm of fraternity and charity the bleeding sores of those who bear the same wounds of Christ imprinted on their own bodies.
I therefore urge you not to remain imprisoned by fear and partisan logic, but to be Christians capable of replenishing this island, placed in the heart of Mare Nostrum, with the spiritual richness of the Gospel, so that it may once again shine in its original beauty.
As I thank each one of you, radiant and merciful face of the Father, for your commitment to assist migrants, I entrust to the Lord of life those who have died in the crossings, and gladly impart my Blessing, asking you to please pray for me.
Rome, from Saint John Lateran, 20 June 2023
Below is the last article in a series (others are linked within) by a writer who spent time in Lesbos.