Pope makes historic visit to migrant island

Francis tells crowd in Lampedusa be 'humane and Christian'

Pope makes historic visit to migrant island

(By Alina Trabattoni) Lampedusa, July 8 - Pope Francis told residents of Lampedusa that they should continue to be "humane and Christian" as he headed back to the Vatican after a whistle-stop visit to the migrant stepping-stone island Monday. "God bless you and help you to continue in this so humane and Christian attitude," said Francis as left the central parish for the airport. For his first official trip as pontiff since his election in March, Pope Francis chose to go to the southern Italian island in an attempt to draw attention to the plight of migrants that set sail from North African shores in desperate attempts to reach Italy. Migrants often land in Lampedusa in their attempts to enter Italy because of the island's location between Sicily and North Africa. Thousands of migrants land yearly after making dangerous crossings in often rickety and overcrowded boats. Many have lost their lives trying to reach the island's shores. "Many of these brothers have passed through the hands of human traffickers, those that profit from the poverty of others", Francis said while he was celebrating Mass. "How much have they suffered, and some have not even made it here". "Who of us have cried for these events? Who cried for the deaths of these brothers and sisters? Who cried for those in the boats? For young mothers who brought their children? We are a society that has forgotten what it is to cry," Francis told the crowd. Immediately after his arrival, the pontiff took part in a colourful yet simple sea ceremony which saw him place a commemorative wreath in the waters off the Cala Pisana bay of the island, with boats of local fishermen and press following in his wake. The pope also celebrated Mass in the Arena sports centre just off the port of Lampedusa, for a crowd of local inhabitants and those who made the trip to the island to attend the ceremony. Close by, a makeshift graveyard of damaged vessels from migrant crossings reminded the huge crowds present of the reason for the pontiff's visit. Organizers said they had tried to keep the trip as simple as possible, in line with Pope Francis' style. The pope had accepted the invitation from the pastor of St. Gerlando in Lampedusa, Stefano Nastasi, who had asked him to come in person to witness first-hand the immigration challenges in the area. In fact, hours before his arrival, an immigrant ship reached the coast of the island, forcing the local authorities and the civil protection units in the area for the papal trip to scramble and receive the new arrivals. The pope also visited survivors and refugees currently hosted in the island's immigrant centres, and encouraged the island's inhabitants to continue offering solidarity, appealing to everyone's sense of responsibility in taking care of immigrants. "Today no one feels responsible for this, it is no one's fault", he added. "The culture of wealth makes us focus on ourselves and makes us insensitive to the cries of the other. "It makes us live in soap bubbles...and creates the globalization of indifference". Traditionally the number of attempted crossings increase dramatically in the summer months due to improved sea conditions. Lampedusa's migrant reception centre has been packed well beyond its capacity in recent weeks. In one dramatic incident in June, seven migrants drowned as they attempted to cling to a tuna cage dragged by a Tunisian fishing boat south of Malta. "It's a recognition of our work over the past year, and of the solidarity the islanders always have towards the immigrants, welcoming them in", said the mayor of Lampedusa Giusi Nicolini. "We hope that the pope's visit brings attention to this emergency that has been going on for 20 years now". Francis told the crowd during Mass that it was the news of the "immigrants who died at sea, boats that instead of bringing hope have brought death" that motivated him to go to Lampedusa.

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