2013-07-08 Vatican Radio(Vatican Radio) Pope Francis is making his first pastoral visit outside Rome on Monday, to Lampedusa. Situated only 113 kilometres from Tunisia, the island has become one of the main points of entry into Europe for thousands of desperate souls who risk the crossing in overcrowded and often unseaworthy vessels. The Director of the Press Office of the Holy See, Fr. Federico Lombardi, SJ, spoke with Vatican Radio from the sporting facility where the Holy Father was celebrating an open-air Mass. Listen:
“The important thing,” he said, “is to understand the true significance of this day, which is – for the Pope – before all else a gesture of solidarity, a call to focus everyone’s attention on one of the grave problems of our time: that of forced migration caused by so many terrible motives, among which are the lack of liberty, hunger, many other problems that make migrants’ lives in their native lands extremely difficult and even impossible.”
Though the influx of migrants has slowed since its height at the outbreak of the Arab Spring in 2011, people nevertheless continue to come. Shortly before the pope arrived on the tiny island Monday morning, a boat carrying 165 migrants from Mali made port. On Sunday, 120 people including four pregnant women were rescued at sea after their vessel suffered engine failure roughly 11 kilometres from the Lampedusan coast.