By Robin Gomes
Pope Francis will celebrate a Holy Mass for Migrants in Rome’s St. Peter’s Basilica on July 8, to mark the 6th anniversary of his visit to the tiny island of Lampedusa, off the coast of Sicily.
“Around 250 people will participate in the celebration, among whom will be migrants, refugees and those who are dedicated to saving their lives,” read a statement by the ‘ad interim’ director of the Holy See Press Office, Alessandro Gisotti.
“Taking part in the Mass, presided over by the Pope at the Altar of the Chair of St Peter, will be only those persons invited by the Migrants and Refugees Section of the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development, to whom the Holy Father has entrusted the organization of the event.”
Gisotti noted that “while Vatican Media will provide a live broadcast of the Mass, the presence of the press in the Basilica is not anticipated.” He explained that “Holy Father desires that the moment be as recollected as possible in the remembrance of how many have lost their lives fleeing war and misery, and so as to encourage those who strive day after day to sustain, accompany and welcome migrants and refugees.”
With the plight and cause of refugees and migrants very close to his heart, Pope Francis who was elected on 13 March 2013, dedicated his first pastoral visit outside Rome to Lampedusa nearly 4 months later on July 8.
Lampedusa is one of the main entry points into Europe for poor and desperate refugees and migrants who set out from North Africa, risking their lives to cross the Mediterranean in overcrowded and unsafe vessels and small boats.
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.