Pope Francis throwing a wreath of flowers into the sea during his visi to Lampedusa on 8 July, 2013  (ANSA)

By Lisa Zengarini

Jul 8 2023

On the occasion of the tenth anniversary of Pope Francis’ visit to Lampedusa on 8 July 2013, the Prefect of the Dicastery for Communication says that the Pope reminds us that immigration is a complex issue that can be addressed by “listening and seeing with our hearts”.

8 July will mark the tenth anniversary since Pope Francis made his historic visit to the Italian island of Lampedusa to pray for refugees and migrants lost at sea.

For the past decades, the southernmost Italian territory off the coast of Sicily has become a prime transit point for illegal migrants from Africa, the Middle East and Asia wanting to enter Europe, mainly departing from the Libyan coasts.

By choosing what has become a symbol of migration tragedies in the Mediterranean as his first trip outside of Rome since his election on March 13 2013, Pope Francis wanted to put a spotlight on the plight of migrants and asylum seekers fleeing war, persecution and poverty, which has been constant theme of his pontificate.

The Pope’s visit to Lampedusa: a call for action

The visit itself lasted only a few hours, with the Pope praying for illegal migrants who drowned trying to reach Europe and throwing a wreath of flowers into the sea in a sign of mourning, before presiding over an open-air Mass. But his message set a tone for his papacy when he denounced the “globalization of indifference”, which “makes us think only of ourselves, makes us insensitive to the cries of other people”.

That message resounded poignantly during the homily when he recalled the question God asked Cain: “Where is your brother?” 

“”Where is your brother?” His blood cries out to me, says the Lord. This is not a question directed to others; it is a question directed to me, to you, to each of us. These brothers and sisters of ours were trying to escape difficult situations to find some serenity and peace; they were looking for a better place for themselves and their families, but instead they found death. How often do such people fail to find understanding, fail to find acceptance, fail to find solidarity.”

Ten years later Pope Francis’ visit to Lampedusa has become a call to action for the Church and governments alike, as the victims of illegal migration continue to rise especially in the Mediterranean Sea transforming it in the “biggest cemetery in Europe”.

IOM: over 17,000 dead and missing In the Central Mediterranean migration route  since 2014 

In the Central Mediterranean migration route to Europe alone, connecting Libya and Tunisia to Italy, which is reckoned as the deadliest in the world, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) has recorded over 17 thousand dead and missing since 2014. 

The number is on the low side as many shipwrecks remain ‘invisible’ thus escaping IOM’s account. 2,300 deaths have been recorded in the western route, while 1,700 were in  the eastern one.

The European Union has granted 6 billion euros to Turkey to stop the flow of migrants arriving in Europe by land, from the Balkans. That flow has subsequently dropped drastically in recent years, but a part of the migrants who flock to Turkey try their luck by sea aiming for Italy.

The deadliest migrant shipwreck in the central Mediterranean dates back to 3 October 2013, when a 20-metre boat sailing from Misrata, Libya, capsized half a mile from Lampedusa. In the tragedy 368 were confirmed dead and about twenty went missing.

The latest deadly incident in the Mediterranean occurred on June 14, 2023, when a overcrowded fishing trawler carrying as many as 750 passengers capsized off the Greek coast leaving dozens dead and hundreds missing.

Migration, a complex issue that cannot be solved with slogans

In the face of these tragedies Pope Francis reminds us, that “we can’t plan everything but we need to listen and see with our hearts, which means understanding what is happening”, said Paolo Ruffini, the Vatican Prefect of the Dicastery for Communication.

“Migration is a complex issue”, he told Vatican News’ Andrea De Angelis. “We are used to thinking that there are simple solutions for complex problems”. However,“ he said, “the real question is not being for or against immigration that has always existed in world historym, but how to manage iit”.

In the present context, Ruffini added, it is imperative to remember what happened ten years ago:  “If we don’t remember,  we won’t know at what point we are now. We need to avoid slogans and speak with our hearts and share to make things move”, the Prefect emphasized. – Vatican News