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 years.
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'.