The tiny island of Lampedusa, off the coast of Italy, has been largely forgotten by media titans across Western nations. Its significance for the European Union and its proximity to North Africa is only highlighted when migrants are attempting to reach Europe. Visiting these young migrants in search of a better life during his first official visit, Pope Francis is showing where his and the Vatican’s priorities. According to Reuters, during his visit:
He spoke to young African migrants before celebrating mass in a sports field that served as a reception center for tens of thousands of mainly Muslim migrants who fled Arab Spring unrest in North Africa in 2011, greatly increasing an exodus that has gone on for years.
His trip came at the start of the summer months when the island, one of the main points of entry into the European Union and just 113 km (70 miles) from Tunisia, sees a steady flow of rickety and unsafe boats arriving on its shores.
He saluted the migrants, many of whom are preparing to fast during Ramadan, and thanked the people of Lampedusa for taking them in and setting an example of solidarity to a selfish society sliding into “the globalization of indifference”…
“The globalization of indifference,” a notion espoused by Pope Francis, is an astute description of the way European Union and NATO officials have treated these migrants. Instead of seeing them as potential asylum seekers, they are treated as security threats. They are at times rescued, but sometimes left ashore to die, as NATO had done to the 63 migrants stranded in the Mediterranean. While the pope is elucidating on the plight and conditions of migrants in Lampedusa, he also strengthening interfaith relations, especially during a time where racism and xenophobia are rampant in Europe and Ramadan just began. The Mediterranean sea for the most part serves as a dividing line between two civilizations: Christendom and Islam, two religions which are historically intertwined and interdependent. His first official visit only galvanizes many Christian groups and societies within Europe to critically reflect on themselves and to harness their values to help those in distress, whether they are foreigners or not.
He also sought to build solidarity amongst the people of Lampedusa, some of who were apprehensive about the arrival of migrants, while others in many ways attempted to ameliorate the disheartening situation these migrants were in. His words and gestures, remarkably, were also heard and seen in the Arab world, where he received praise and appreciation.
The plight of migrants needs to be highlighted no matter where they land. The migrants in Lampedusa are for the most part forgotten by the international community and disdained by European Union’s policymakers. The Pope’s plan of visiting Lampedusa was excellently executed, and the Lampedusians as well as the migrants will always have etched in their memory that the newly ordained Pope recognized their struggles and had chose them as his first destination for his first official tour.