Many folks have asked me what I think about our new pope, Pope Francis.
Today, I found information on the Vatican Radio web site about a visit the pope will make in a few days. He will travel to a tiny island, Lampedusa, part of the Archdiocese of Agrigento, which is in southern Sicily.
You can see from this map that Lampedusa is actually closer to Tunisia in North Africa than it is to Sicily. Here are excerpts from the Vatican Radio site regarding the upcoming papal visit to the island:
(Vatican Radio) The Holy Father will visit the Italian island Lampedusa - which has become a destination for African refugees fleeing war, violence and poverty- on Monday, July 8th.
Lampedusa is less than 115 kilometres from the Tunisian coast, closer than it is to Sicily, the Italian province of which it is a part. Tens of thousands of immigrants have arrived on the island since the Arab Spring began two years ago.
“Lampedusa … is a bridge to the African continent that we cannot pretend it does not exist,” said Archbishop Francesco Montenegro, of the Sicilian Archdiocese of Agrigento. He asked Pope Francis to visit the island during his recent “ad limina” visit to Rome.
“I saw the Pope paid close attention to the news I gave him and I said it would be good if he wanted to come,” Archbishop Montenegro said. He told Vatican Radio the Pope is not only visiting the refugees, but also the people of the island, whose small population has been “giving everything” to help the migrants, who often come with nothing on perilous, flimsy boats.
“[My people] have emptied cupboards, have provided showers, luncheons, goods, clothes ,” he said.
The Archbishop also spoke about those who never reach Lampedusa, those untold numbers who have died trying to make the journey.
“The number of deaths does not seem to be of interest because they have black skin. There is so much indifference,” Archbishop Montenegro said.
“Immigration is not an ‘emergency’, we must have the courage to stop using this word: It is the way things are,” he said. “Today, 10 will arrive, 100 will arrive, 1000 will arrive; but the problem is not because they arrive in the thousands. The problem is also there if only 10 arrive, because they are 10 men who want to live.”
The official programme of the Papal Visit was released on Monday, and Archbishop Montenegro said Pope Francis wants the visit to be low-key.
“Today we are giving the official news, but the good thing is that the Pope has said he wants to be a private visit, with nothing sensational,” he said. “That he wants to come [in a very quiet manner], with the simplicity of a bishop who watches over his people and watches over them with the eyes of the heart, I think this is a great lesson.”
Thousands have fled North Africa to avoid the violence and danger that have erupted there.
Too often, when we hear about the plight of people in a far away place, we can become indifferent. It seems that Pope Francis is anything but indifferent. Re-read the last line of the Archbishop in the story above. I am filled with hope for the Catholic Church when I look at these simple and humble gestures and actions by a simple and humble man.
Gotta sing. Gotta pray.