We mustn’t fail to take note of the very first apostolic journey of Pope Francis’s pontificate, a dramatic one yesterday to the tiny Sicilian island of Lampedusa. It serves as an arrival point for immigrants making their way, often packed into rickety wooden boats exposed to the elements, from Africa to Italy by sea. Tens of thousands have made such a voyage in recent years.
For a good perspective on the significance of the location, John Allen has provided a helpful comparison:
To get a sense of its impact, imagine a newly elected president of the United States announcing that his first trip outside D.C. would be to the border to see for himself where people have died and to embrace detainees in an ICE facility. It would be taken as a bold way of proclaiming that compassion will be a hallmark of the new administration. That’s exactly how Italians, and Europeans generally, are reacting to Francis’ planned outing.
The Pope threw a wreath of flowers into the sea to remember the tens of thousands of migrants who have lost their lives while crossing the Mediterranean. He celebrated Mass with the islanders and met with some migrants. Most fascinating to me is that the Pope chose to wear purple vestments, Lenten colors, for this Mass on a weekday of ordinary time. He used the prayers from the Mass for the Forgiveness of Sins, and in his homily, he called the Mass “a liturgy of repentance.”
Also fascinating, Catholic News Service’s Cindy Wooden reports:
The Mass was filled with reminders that Lampedusa is now synonymous with dangerous attempts to reach Europe: the altar was built over a small boat; the pastoral staff the pope used was carved from wood recycled from a shipwrecked boat; the lectern was made from old wood as well and had a ship’s wheel mounted on the front; and even the chalice — although lined with silver — was carved from the wood of a wrecked boat.
(Some of these details must be driving the liturgical traditionalists crazy.) And rather than being transported while on the island in the popemobile, he travelled — the L.A. Times reported — in a borrowed 20-year-old Fiat Campagnola.
Vatican Radio provides the full text of his remarkable homily here. Here are some snippets:
So many of us, even including myself, are disoriented, we are no longer attentive to the world in which we live, we don’t care, we don’t protect that which God has created for all, and we are unable to care for one another. And when this disorientation assumes worldwide dimensions, we arrive at tragedies like the one we have seen.
“Where is your brother?” the voice of his blood cries even to me, God says. This is not a question addressed to others: it is a question addressed to me, to you, to each one of us. These our brothers and sisters seek to leave difficult situations in order to find a little serenity and peace, they seek a better place for themselves and for their families – but they found death. How many times to those who seek this not find understanding, do not find welcome, do not find solidarity! And their voices rise up even to God!
In Spanish literature there is a play by Lope de Vega that tells how the inhabitants of the city of Fuente Ovejuna killed the Governor because he was a tyrant, and did it in such a way that no one knew who had carried out the execution. And when the judge of the king asked “Who killed the Governor?” they all responded, “Fuente Ovejuna, sir.” All and no one! Even today this question comes with force: Who is responsible for the blood of these brothers and sisters? No one! We all respond this way: not me, it has nothing to do with me, there are others, certainly not me. But God asks each one of us: “Where is the blood of your brother that cries out to me?” Today no one in the world feels responsible for this; we have lost the sense of fraternal responsibility; we have fallen into the hypocritical attitude of the priest and of the servant of the altar that Jesus speaks about in the parable of the Good Samaritan: We look upon the brother half dead by the roadside, perhaps we think “poor guy,” and we continue on our way, it’s none of our business; and we feel fine with this. We feel at peace with this, we feel fine! The culture of well-being, that makes us think of ourselves, that makes us insensitive to the cries of others, that makes us live in soap bubbles, that are beautiful but are nothing, are illusions of futility, of the transient, that brings indifference to others, that brings even the globalization of indifference.
Of course, we also cannot fail to take note of the timeliness in the United States context, as the Senate has just passed an immigration reform bill and the House of Representatives considers doing the same.