Milan

Pope trip hailed by rights groups, Muslims

Francis sends best wishes for beginning of Ramadan

Pope trip hailed by rights groups, Muslims

(By Kate Carlisle) Milan, July 8 - Amnesty International Italy on Monday praised Pope Francis for choosing Lampedusa, a stepping stone island for immigrants travelling from the North African coast to Italy and Europe, as his first official trip as pontiff. The humanitarian organization said in a note that it appreciated Pope Francis's choice of a ''place of arrival for migrants, asylum seekers and refugees''. Amnesty International Italy added it hoped that ''the message coming from such an elevated moral authority can promote respect for the human rights of migrants, refugees and asylum seekers''. An Islamic centre in northern Italy also thanked Francis Monday for his efforts to reach out to immigrants, including Muslims, who risk their lives at sea to reach Italy. The message, from Abdel Hamid Shaari, president of the Islamic Cultural Centre in Milan, came as Francis saluted Muslim immigrants during his visit to Lampedusa. The pope chose Lampedusa, closer to Africa than Italy, as his first trip as pontiff to focus attention on the many asylum seekers who die trying to cross the Mediterranean. "To the dear, Muslim immigrants who today, this evening, are beginning the fast of Ramadan, with wishes for abundant spiritual fruit," Francis said. "The Church is close to you in the search for a more dignified life for you and your families," the pope added. Shaari said it was "a good thing" that the pope spoke in Lampedusa to draw attention to the plight of migrants while at the same time encouraging dialogue between faiths. "We thank (Francis) and say that we are part of any dialogue and religious encounter," said Shaari. However, the strongly anti-immigrant Northern League's second-in-command said that Pope Francis should help migrants, but "in their own (home) countries". Deputy Secretary Matteo Salvini wrote on his Facebook page that Francis should not encourage the "globalization of clandestine" immigration, responding to the pope's call to avoid the "globalization of indifference". 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 they have suffered and how many have not even made it here".

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