Seeking to “reawaken” consciences, Pope Francis visited an Italian island which is the destination of African emigrants and said that the “culture of comfort” leads many people to ignore the suffering of others.
“The culture of comfort…makes us insensitive to the cries of other people, makes us live in soap bubbles which, however lovely, are insubstantial; they offer a fleeting and empty illusion which results in indifference to others,” the Bishop of Rome preached in his homily during Mass at the Arena sporting field on Lampedusa July 8.
“In this globalized world,” he continued, “we have fallen into globalized indifference. We have become used to the suffering of others: it doesn’t affect me; it doesn’t concern me; it’s none of my business.”
Lampedusa is the gateway for African emigrants, many of whom are Muslim, coming to Europe. It is located a mere 90 miles from the coast of Tunisia. Pope Francis travelled there as a sign of solidarity with the migrants who come to the island seeking a better life in Europe.
Thousands of African migrants, packed into small boats, have been arriving at the island in recent years. Many others have died in the attempt. A boat with some 160 Eritreans made it to the island just hours before the arrival of Pope Francis.
Remembering the death of another group of migrants a few weeks ago, the Holy Father said that this “happens all too frequently” and that it “has constantly come back to me like a painful thorn in my heart.”
“I felt that I had to come here today, to pray and to offer a sign of my closeness, but also to challenge our consciences lest this tragedy be repeated.”
Setting a penitential tone for the Mass, the Roman Pontiff wore purple vestments. He began his reflections on the readings by saying, “I wish to offer some thoughts meant to challenge people’s consciences and lead them to reflection and a concrete change of heart.”
The first reading told of Cain's murder of his brother Abel, and God's asking “where is your brother?”
Pope Francis said that “'the other' is no longer a brother or sister to be loved, but simply someone who disturbs my life and my comfort.”
God's question to Cain “echoes even today” he said, “as forcefully as ever.”
“How many of us, myself included, have lost our bearings; we are no longer attentive to the world in which we live; we don’t care; we don’t protect what God created for everyone, and we end up unable even to care for one another,” reflected the Pope.
God's question – where is your brother – is not “directed to others,” Pope Francis assures us, but “is a question directed to me, to you, to each of us.”
“These brothers and sisters of ours were trying to escape difficult situations to find some serenity and peace; they were looking for a better place for themselves and their families, but instead they found death.”
He lamented the lack of understanding and solidarity received by immigrants, and said “their cry rises up to God.”
The Bishop of Rome asked who is responsible for the blood of the migrants who died trying to reach Lampedusa, saying that the immediate answer is often “nobody” or “it isn't me.”
“Yet God is asking each of us: 'Where is the blood of your brother which cries out to me?' Today no one in our world feels responsible; we have lost a sense of responsibility for our brothers and sisters,” he taught.
Pope Francis said that society has fallen into the “hypocrisy” of the priest and the Levite in the story of the Good Samaritan: “we see our brother half dead on the side of the road, and perhaps we say to ourselves: 'poor soul…!', and then go on our way.”
“It’s not our responsibility, and with that we feel reassured, assuaged.”
The Pope compared Westerners' refusal to take responsibility for the plight of immigrants to the 17th century Spanish play “Fuenteovejuna,” in which “everybody and nobody” in the town takes responsibility for the murder of a government official.
The “globalization of indifference” makes everyone “responsible, yet nameless and faceless,” he reflected.
He added that society has “forgotten how to weep,” questioning how many have wept for the situation of those who have died trying to migrate.
“Has any one of us grieved for the death of these brothers and sisters? Has any one of us wept for these persons who were on the boat? For the young mothers carrying their babies? For these men who were looking for a means of supporting their families,” he asked.
Indifference has led to a forgetfulness of compassion, of “suffering with” others, said the Roman Pontiff.
The gospel at the Mass was that of the Massacre of the Innocents, which mentions the suffering of the mothers whose children were martyred.
Pope Francis said Herod's decision to kill the infants was made “to protect his own comfort, his own soap bubble.”
“And so it continues.”
The Bishop of Rome implored that we “ask the Lord to remove the part of Herod that lurks in our hearts.”
“Let us ask the Lord for the grace to weep over our indifference, to weep over the cruelty of our world, of our own hearts, and of all those who in anonymity make social and economic decisions which open the door to tragic situations like this.”
Today's Mass was not the first time that Lampedusa has received the attention of the Vatican. On April 27, 2011, Benedict XVI welcomed pilgrims from the island to his General Audience and encouraged them to “continue their valued commitment to solidarity with our brother migrants.”
At the Mass today, Pope Francis similarly indicated “gratitude and encouragement” to the people of Lampedusa who offer assistance to migrants coming to the island. He also thanked Archbishop Francesco Montenegro of Agrigento, the Sicilian archdiocese which includes Lampedusa.
Noting that many of the African emigrants are Muslim, Pope Francis said that “I also think with affection of those Muslim immigrants who this evening begin the fast of Ramadan, which I trust will bear abundant spiritual fruit.”
“The Church is at your side as you seek a more dignified life for yourselves and your families.”
While visiting Lampedusa, Pope Francis threw a wreath into the sea in memory of the some 20,000 human persons who have lost their lives trying to reach the island in the past 25 years. He also met with representatives of those who have made it to the island.
A speaker for the migrants noted that they had fled Africa for “political and economic” reasons, and pleaded for assistance from the nations of Europe.
As a further sign of solidarity with the migrants who have sought refuge on the island, Pope Francis carried a new ferula, or papal staff, which had been fashioned from the remains of a wrecked immigrant boat. He said Mass at an altar which had been converted from another immigrant boat.