Pope Francis is calling on the international community to act swiftly to protect the safety of migrants following a sharp increase in drownings across the Mediterranean.
Speaking during his Sunday Angelus address in St Peter’s Square yesterday, the Pope talked about the “dramatic reports of shipwrecks of boats laden with migrants” and talked about his “pain” after hearing the news while assuring the victims of his prayers.
“I address a heartfelt appeal for the international community to act decisively and promptly, in order to prevent such tragedies from repeating themselves, and to guaranteeing security, respect for the rights and dignity of all,” Francis told a crowd of 25,000 pilgrims.
Last Wednesday 30 migrants died when a boat carrying 150 sank close to the coast of northern Cyprus, while charities have reported that the numbers of deaths in the Mediterranean reaching 600 in the period from the middle of June to the middle of July.
The increase in drownings, according French aid organisation Médicins Sans Frontières, has been fuelled by the decision of the new Italian government to prevent migrant rescue boats from docking in the country’s ports.
For Francis, the care of migrants has been a core concern of his papacy and after hearing news of migrant drownings of the coast of southern Italy in 2013 he chose the island of Lampedusa, a major arrival point for refugees from North Africa, as the place of his first papal visit outside of Rome.
But his defence of refugees stands in contrast to Matteo Salvini, Italy’s Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of the Interior, who has taken a tough anti-migrant line and who polls show is growing in popularity.
The Pope's appeal for migrants followed his reflection on the Gospel of Mark 6:30-34 which he explained showed how an “unexpected emergency” mean that plans must be changed in order to respond to the needs of others.
Christians, he explained, are sometimes unable to complete their projects and need to show “flexibility and availability”.
In the gospel passage on which the Pope reflected, Jesus encourages the apostles to rest following an intense period of work and teaching but they are unable to do so as a large crowd follows them. Jesus, after seeing the crowd and having “compassion" for the people gathered, then starts teaching them.
This, Francis emphasised, offers a "flash" insight into the “intensity” of Christ’s mission and give us the three “verbs” of a shepherd which he described as "to see, to have compassion, to teach”.
He said: “The gaze of Jesus is not a neutral one or worse, a cold and detached look. Jesus always looks with the eyes of the heart, and his heart is so tender and full of compassion, that he knows how to grasp the hidden needs of people. His compassion does not simply indicate an emotional reaction to a situation of unease of the people, but it is a lot of more: it is the attitude of God towards man and his history.”
While some in the crowd expected Jesus to perform a miracle, Francis explained, it was significant that he chose to “teach” them instead.
“We all need the word of truth, to guide us and enlighten the path,” the Pope said. “Without the truth, which is Christ himself, it is not possible to find the right orientation of life. When one moves away from Jesus and his love, one loses oneself and existence turns into disappointment and dissatisfaction.”
He continued: “With Jesus on side we can proceed with security, we can overcome the trials, we progress in love for God and for our neighbour. Jesus has made himself a gift for others, thus becoming a model of love and service for each one of us.”
The Pope finished the address by greeting pilgrims from the Diocese of Rio do Sul in Brazil, the Archdiocese of Seville, Spain, the Diocese of Vicenza, and young people from the Diocese of Pelplin, Poland who had come from Assisi as part of “prayer relay” ahead of October’s Synod of Bishops gathering which will focus on youth and vocational discernment.