Since its unexpected announcement, the significance of Pope Francis’ journey has been very strong. The words which the Bishop of Rome, from “almost the ends of the earth”, has been repeating from the moment of his election in the Conclave are not empty.
The purpose of the first journey of his pontificate, as brief as it was meaningful, was to reach out from the centre, which must be exemplary in presiding “in charity over all the Churches” — as the Pope recalled in introducing himself to the world. Lampedusa is one of the geographical and existential peripheries of our time.
The visit was meant to be simple, because it was spurred by news of still more immigrants dying at sea. This was “like a painful thorn” in Pope Francis’ heart. He chose this itinerary in order to pray, to make tangible and visible his closeness and to stir “our consciences”, and also to give thanks. At the penitential celebration, before the world and in solidarity with the poorest people, he added informal, he spoke spontaneous words of gratitude to those who have welcomed and embraced immigrants for years, offering in this silent and disinterested way “an example of authentic solidarity”.
From this “gateway to Europe”, a continent all too often lost in its own well-being, the Bishop of Rome offered the world a demanding reflection on today’s confusion, using God’s questions which open the Judeo-Christian Scriptures: “Adam, where are you?”, and, “Cain, where is your brother?”. The Bible’s questions that go back to the root of humanity, Pope Francis repeated before the many Muslim immigrants. He had just expressed to them his hope that their forthcoming fast of Ramadan might bear abundant spiritual fruit, as well as friendship which stretches beyond the boundaries of the tiny Island in the Mediterranean.
These questions, of every epoch, are today addressed to human beings who have lost their bearings, the Pontiff emphasized: “How many of us, myself included, have lost our bearings; we are no longer attentive to the world in which we live; we do not take care of, protect, what God created for everyone, and we end up unable even to care for one another”. To the point that thousands and thousands of people are forced to leave their land, thus falling into the hands of traffickers, “people who exploit the poverty of others, people who live off the misery of others”, the Bishop of Rome said, denouncing them and recalling God's words to Cain: “Where is your brother... whose blood is crying to me from the ground”.
But no one feels responsible because, Pope Francis continued, “we have lost our sense of brotherly responsibility”. Indeed, the culture of comfort “makes us live in soap bubbles which, however lovely, are insubstantial”; in short, it is an illusion which in today’s globalized world has led to the “globalization of indifference”, robbing us even of the ability to weep before the dead. Hence the Gospel scene of the injured man left on the wayside who is cared for only by a Samaritan. As in the “miniature reality” of Lampedusa, where, nevertheless so many embody the mercy of that God who became a Child and was forced to flee Herod's persecution.
St. Peter’s Square
Jan. 17, 2019
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