By Lydia O'Kane
Two life jackets that tell their own story: The first one was given to the Pope a few years ago by a group of rescuers; The vest belonged to a girl who drowned in the Mediterranean. The second one, delivered to Pope Francis by another group of rescuers just a few days ago, belonged to a migrant who was lost at sea last July. No one knows who he was or where he came from.
The Pope on Thursday told 33 refugees recently arrived from the Greek island of Lesbos through a humanitarian corridor, that he had donated the first life jacket to the two undersecretaries from the Migrants and Refugees Section, at the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development, telling them ‘This is your mission’.
The Pontiff said he wanted it “to mean the inescapable commitment of the Church to save the lives of migrants, so that then we could welcome, protect, promote and integrate them.”
Injustice that forces many migrants to leave their lands
Addressing those gathered in the Belvedere Courtyard in the Vatican, Pope Francis underlined that it was injustice that forced many migrants to leave their lands, and to suffer abuse and torture in detention camps. “It is injustice that rejects them and causes them to die at sea”, he said.
The cross a symbol of suffering and salvation
In the Christian tradition, noted the Pope, “the cross is a symbol of suffering and sacrifice, but also of redemption and salvation. Unveiling, what he called, a “crucified” life jacket on a transparent resin cross, Pope Francis said he decided to do this to, “remind us that we must keep our eyes open ..., keep our hearts open ..., to remind everyone of the indispensable commitment to save every human life, a moral duty that unites believers and non-believers.”
“Our ignorance is a sin”
“How can we fail to hear the desperate cry of so many brothers and sisters who prefer to face a stormy sea rather than die slowly in Libyan detention camps, places of torture and ignoble slavery?”, stressed the Pope. “How can we remain indifferent to the abuses and violence of which they are innocent victims, leaving them at the mercy of unscrupulous traffickers? How can we "go further", like the priest and the Levite of the parable of the Good Samaritan, making ourselves responsible for their death” Our ignorance is a sin”, he said.
Pope Francis went on to say that it is not by blocking the rescue ships that the problem is solved. “Serious efforts must be made to empty the detention camps in Libya, evaluating and implementing all possible solutions”, he said. “We must denounce and prosecute traffickers who exploit and abuse migrants”, the Pope continued. “Economic interests must be put aside in order to focus on the person, each person, whose life and dignity are precious in the eyes of God.” The Pope concluded by saying, “we must help and save, because we are all responsible for the life of our neighbour, and the Lord will ask us to account for this at the moment of judgment.”
Following the Pope’s discourse the cross was carried by two of the refugees where it was blessed and hung on a wall in of memory all migrants and refugees who are forced to make perilous journeys in search of a better life.