By Robin Gomes
Pope Francis will celebrate Holy Mass in Rome’s St. Peter’s Basilica on Friday, to commemorate the 5th anniversary of his trip to the tiny Italian island of Lampedusa, one of the main points of entry into Europe for poor and desperate refugees and migrants from North Africa who risk their lives to cross the Mediterranean in overcrowded and unsafe vessels and small boats.
A statement by the Holy See Press Office said that the June 6 Mass “will be a moment of prayer for the dead, for the survivors and for those who care for them.” Some 200 people are expected to attend the Pope’s Mass, including refugees and carers.
Pope's first trip outside Rome
The newly elected Pope dedicated his first official trip outside Rome to migrants and refugees, visiting the island off Sicily on July 8, 2013.
There he prayed for the numerous illegal migrants who drowned while trying to reach the shores of Europe. He threw a wreath of flowers into the sea, in a sign of mourning - before presiding over an open-air Mass.
Globalization of indifference
In his homily, he lashed out at what he described as the “globalization of indifference”, saying the cry of the blood of migrants who have perished in the sea, rises up to God, who questions us regarding our brother and sister migrants.
United Nations figures pointed out that almost 8,000 migrants and asylum seekers landed on the coasts of southern Italy in the first half of 2013, the vast majority of them from North Africa, mainly Libya.
The Lampedusa pilgrimage was highly symbolic of the Argentine Pope who has placed the poor at the centre of the his papacy and has called on the entire Church to not remain closed in but to reach out to the peripheries to seek out and serve the poor, the marginalized and the discarded of society.
According to Alberto Melloni, an Italian church historian, “Francis’ speech at Lampedusa was an encyclical on his pontificate.” The expert on the Second Vatican Council noted how the Pope puts extraordinary doctrinal concepts into an easy to understand language, where he spares no one, including himself.
Melloni particularly remembered when the Pope said, “How many of us, myself included, have lost our bearings; we are no longer attentive to the world in which we live; we don’t care; we don’t protect what God created for everyone, and we end up unable even to care for one another! And when humanity as a whole loses its bearings, it results in tragedies like the one we have witnessed.”
Lampedusa changed Pope’s travelling habit
The Lampedusa mission thus became a turning point in the Pope’s travelling habit. “I don’t like traveling,” Pope Francis confided to Italian journalist, Andrea Tornielli in his book “Travelling”. He said travelling always weighed on him to be far from his diocese, which for a bishop is his ‘spouse’. But “the tragedy of Lampedusa made me feel the duty to travel” around the world to visit Churches and “to encourage the seeds of hope that are there,” the Pope told the journalist who follows him on his trips.
“It wasn’t planned; there weren’t official invitations,” the Pope said, but “I felt I should go; the news of the migrants that died, engulfed in the sea, touched and moved me — children, women, young men … a heart-breaking tragedy.”