|Pope Francis speaks to migrants during his visit to the Italian island of Lampedusa Monday. (Andreas Solaro/AFP)|
|The Pope was prompted to make his first visit outside Rome to Lampedusa after hearing of an incident in June in which seven migrants traveling in a Tunisian fishing boat towards Lampedusa drowned at sea while clinging to tuna nets. Similar stories are inevitable in the future if the Pope's message of protection for refugees is not acted upon.|
(Rome) July 9, 2013 – Pope Francis made a symbolic stand for human rights and justice yesterday as he visited the island of Lampedusa, Italy, to stand in solidarity with the migrants and refugees who journey to the island in hopes of a peaceful future in Europe, and with the host community faced with the challenge to extend hospitality to the influx of migrants.
"Who is responsible for the blood of these brothers and sisters? No one feels responsible," said Pope Francis on Monday morning.
Jesuit Refugee Service welcomes the Pope's call for greater global responsibility for those who have suffered persecution, war and poverty in their home countries. Lampedusa, home to 6,000 inhabitants, is a main point of entry for thousands of migrants coming to Europe from northern Africa.
"The important thing is to understand the true significance of this day, which is — for the Pope— before all else a gesture of solidarity, a call to focus everyone's attention on one of the grave problems of our time: that of forced migration caused by so many terrible motives, among which are the lack of liberty, hunger, many other problems that make migrants' lives in their native lands extremely difficult and even impossible," said Frederico Lombardi S.J., the director of the Press Office of the Holy See.
The Holy Father released a wreath of flowers into the sea in memory of the estimated 17,000 who have lost their lives in the perilous journey to Europe.
Later, the Pope met with a representative of the some 500 migrants on Lampedusa and celebrated Mass in a sports stadium, which proved historically symbolic as the stadium housed thousands who fled unrest in north Africa in 2011.
The Pope was prompted to make his first visit outside Rome to Lampedusa after hearing of an incident in June in which seven migrants traveling in a Tunisian fishing boat towards Lampedusa drowned at sea while clinging to tuna nets. Similar stories are inevitable in the future if the Pope's message of protection for refugees is not acted upon.
Fortunately, on Sunday coast guards succeeded in rescuing 120 migrants seven miles off southeastern Lampedusa, and yesterday 162 Eritreans made it to the island in good condition despite cold water temperatures.
"We no longer want to see the people clinging to traps in order to be able to ask for political asylum. Secure humanitarian channels should be created urgently in order to permit the people fleeing from war and persecution to reach Europe and see their right to seek asylum guaranteed," said Giovanni La Manna S.J., director of JRS Italy (Centro Astalli).