Daniel and Siriman share their personal stories

By Thaddeus Jones

Apr 4 2022

Pope Francis visits with migrants at the John XXIII Peace Lab Centre during his final event in Malta, and warns humanity that we face a shipwreck of civilization, which threatens not only migrants but all of us, if we do not conduct ourselves with kindness and humanity.

On Sunday afternoon, Pope Francis visited Malta’s “Pope John XIII Peace Laboratory,” founded in 1971 by Franciscan friar Dionysius Mintoff, following an appeal made by Pope John XXIII, who called for the world to reflect on peace.

The Peace Lab runs an extensive adult education programme and assists people of all backgrounds and cultures as a way to show solidarity to those in need and offer an oasis where people can encounter others with openness and warmth. 

The gathering with Pope Francis started with introductory words by the 91-year-old founder, Father Mintoff, who explained how the Pope’s visit helps strengthen the faith that inspires their work in helping those fleeing war and famine. 

Two of the migrants present, Daniel and Siriman, shared their difficult personal stories of fleeing their homelands and the life-threatening challenges they faced along the way.

Daniel, from Nigeria, had given the Pope a painting he made depicting his shipwreck as he travelled across the Mediterranean Sea, where some of his friends died.

Pope Francis thanked them, also on behalf of the many others forced to leave their homelands in search of a secure refuge, for opening their hearts and sharing their lives.

Repeating what he said in when he returned to Lesbos in December 2021, the Pope said: “I am here… to assure you of my closeness… I am here to see your faces and look into your eyes,” assuring them that he always remembers them and keeps their plight in his heart and prayers.

Continuing a tradition of ‘unusual kindness’

Recalling the “unusual kindness” with which the Maltese welcomed the Apostle Paul and his companions when they were shipwrecked on Malta – which also provided the theme of this Apostolic Journey – the Pope expressed his hope that Malta may continue in this ancient tradition in how it treats those arriving on its shores today.

He recalled the many thousands of men, women, and children fleeing war and poverty, and risking their lives crossing the Mediterranean for safer shores, with so many sadly ending in tragedy.

Stopping the ‘shipwreck of civilization’

The Pope warned that we risk a “shipwreck of civilization” with this reality, but that “by conducting ourselves with kindness and humanity” we can keep the ship afloat.

In practice, he said, this means putting ourselves in the shoes of those fleeing their homelands, trying to understand their life stories, knowing that it could be us  – or our sons and daughters – and doing whatever we can to help out.

He recalled at this very moment there could be boats heading our way, brothers and sisters seeking safety, mentioning again those forced to flee from Ukraine, but also calling on us to remember the many suffering people in Asia, Africa, and the Americas.

All, he said, are in his thoughts and prayers, in particular the 90 migrants who perished off the coast of Libya in recent days.

Pope Francis speaking to the migrants gathered for his visit
Listening and solidarity

Pope Francis made reference to how Daniel and Siriman described their feeling of being uprooted, which leaves its mark over time and takes time to heal. But experiences of human kindness can act as a medicine, as can meeting others who are open to listening and accompanying them, whether their own companions or those welcoming and assisting them.

That, he added, is why migrant reception centres can play an important role, allowing “human kindness” to be expressed and experienced, and for Christians, this is about fidelity to the Gospel of Jesus, who said: “I was a stranger and you welcomed Me.” This all takes time and patience, the Pope said.

“It takes time, immense patience, and above all a love made up of closeness, tenderness, and compassion, like God’s love for us.”

Agents of welcome and fraternity

The Pope added that his dream is that migrants themselves might in turn “become witnesses of those human values essential for a dignified and fraternal life,” the values they hold dear in their hearts and that are part of their roots.

Once their own suffering has subsided, they can share their interior richness, “a precious patrimony of humanity,” with others.

“This is the way! The way of fraternity and social friendship. Here is the future of the human family in a globalized world. I am happy to be able to share this dream with you today, just as you, in your testimonies, have shared your dreams with me!”

Fires of fraternity

In conclusion, the Pope encouraged everyone to not lose heart thinking nothing can be done, but to go forth promoting the dignity of all persons. 

“Let us light fires of fraternity around which people can warm themselves, rise again and rediscover hope. Let us strengthen the fabric of social friendship and the culture of encounter, starting from places such as this. They may not be perfect, but they are, truly, “laboratories of peace”.”

In conclusion, the Pope and others present lighted a candle before the image of Our Lady. 

Pope Francis described the action as a very simple yet meaningful gesture, noting that in the Christian tradition, the little flame is a symbol of faith in God, a symbol of hope, “a hope that Mary, our Mother, keeps alive even at most difficult moments.”

He assured all of them of his prayers and solidarity, and concluded by reading the following prayer:

Lord God, Creator of the universe,
source of all freedom and peace,
love and fraternity,
you created us in your own image,
breathed in us the breath of life
and made us sharers in your own life of communion.

Even when we broke your covenant
you did not abandon us to the power of death,
but continued, in your infinite mercy,
to call us back to you,
to live as your sons and daughters.

Pour out upon us your Holy Spirit
and grant us a new heart,
sensitive to the pleas, often silent,
of our brothers and sisters who have lost
the warmth of their homes and homeland. 

Grant that we may give them hope
by our welcome and our show of humanity. 

Make us instruments of peace
and practical, fraternal love.

Free us from fear and prejudice;
enable us to share in their sufferings
and to combat injustice together,
for the growth of a world in which each person
is respected in his or her inviolable dignity,
the dignity that you, O Father, have granted us
and your Son has consecrated forever. 

Amen.

-Vatican News