Lampedusa (AsiaNews) - A wreath of white and yellow flowers
and a prayer in remembrance of the many, an estimated 20,000, who have lost
their lives during the "journey of hope" of immigrants towards
Europe. Thus began Pope Francis' first trip outside Rome, and also the first
trip by a pope to Lampedusa, the "gateway to Europe" which for years
has welcomed thousands of migrants. The peak in numbers occurred between March
and April 2011, when there were 6,500 immigrants on an island of about 6,000
inhabitants. Even today, a boat arrived at dawn with 166 foreigners.
The son of Italian immigrants in Argentina, Pope Francis
arrived in Lampedusa - 20 square kilometres, at a latitude further south than
Tunis and Algiers, 113 kilometres from the African coast of Tunisia and 127
from the coastlines of Europe and Italy - shortly after 9:00 am. In Cala Pisana
he embarked on a patrol boat (pictured) of the Coast Guard, accompanied by a
hundred fishing boats, and arrived off the coast of Cala Maluk, where a
shipwreck once occurred, and threw the wreath overboard.
A moment of prayer before the arrival at Favarolo pier, where
the immigrants arrive. On the pier were 100 of the 125 immigrants present at
the welcome center of the Imbriacola district. They were are almost all young:
the two youngest immigrants were 13 years old. Francis greeted them one by one,
asking questions, listening. "Welcome among the last ones" read one
banner, which somehow explained the reason for the visit by a Pope who invites
people to "go out toward the outskirts." "Thank you", said
Francis on the pier. "All together", he added, "today we will
pray for each other and also for those who are not here today." A young
man translated into Arabic. "Come and talk", Francis beckoned to him.
"We want you to help our problem", said the young man. "We have
fled from our country, to get to this place we have overcome various obstacles;
we were kidnapped. To get here we have suffered so much. We would like help
from our Holy Father, we want other countries to help us. Thank you for your
cooperation, we thank God. We are here, forced to remain in Italy: we want
other European countries to help us".
It was almost a private visit. The Pope made it known that he
did not want the presence of the authorities. He was thus welcomed and
accompanied only by the Mayor, Giusy Nicolini, and the Archbishop of Agrigento,
Mons. Francesco Montenegro. Even the car he is travelling in is
"private": a white "Campagnola", owned by a Milan resident who has visited the island for 20
It is thus that he will arrive at the Arena sports field,
where he will celebrate the Mass. The "boat cemetery" is clearly
visible, where hundreds of the vessels are stacked that have arrived here.
The altar, too, is made from a boat and even the chalice and
the pastoral cross were made from wood of the 'ships of hope'.