A conscience-provoking visit
Fr Mario Attard OFM Cap
Pope Francis’ visit to the Greek Island of Lesbos on Saturday 16 April has been marked both by sadness and hope.
On his way to Lesbos from Rome the Holy Father observed that this apostolic journey was one characterised by sadness. To thejounalists during the flight he said:
“This is a journey marked by sadness, this is important. It is a sad journey. We go to meet the greatest humanitarian catastrophe since the Second World War. Let’s go – and we’ll see – so many people suffering, not knowing where to go, who had to flee. And we’re going to a graveyard: the sea. So many people there drowned. I say this not to sour, not bitter, but because even your, today’s, work can convey to you the state of mind with which I make this trip”.
Enraptured with the Gospel spirit of solidarity, Pope Francis, together with Patriach Bartholomew and Archbishop Ieronymos, sent the message that real Christians scrupulously follow Saint Paul’s heartfelt exhortation to the early Christian Community: “Weep with those who weep” (Rom 12:15). The very presence ofthese three prelates in an island that responded generously to the plea of migrants was a tangible “example in speech and conduct in love, in faith, in purity” (1 Tim 4:12).
Pope Francis shared the distress the refugees are undergoing when they had to leave everything that was dear to them to start a new life elsewhere. In his address at Mora Refugee Camp wherein 2,500 refugees have taken their refuge the Pope told them:
“I have wanted to be with you today. I want to tell you that you are not alone. In these weeks and months, you have endured much suffering in your search for a better life. Many of you felt forced to flee situations ofconflict and persecution for the sake, above all, of your children, your little ones. You have made great sacrifices for your families. You know the pain of having left behind everything that is dear to you and – what is perhaps most difficult – not knowing what the future will bring. Many others like you are also in camps or towns, waiting, hoping to build a new life on this continent. I have come here with my brothers, Patriarch Bartholomew and Archbishop Ieronymos, simply to be with you and to hear your stories. We have come to call the attentionof the world to this grave humanitarian crisis and to plead for its resolution. As people of faith, we wish to join our voices to speak out on your behalf. We hope that the world will heed these scenes of tragic and indeed desperate need, and respond in a way worthy of our common humanity.”
In his prayer to remember the victims of migration the Holy Father prayed “for all the men, women and children who have died after leaving their homelands in search of a better life. Though many of their graves bear no name, to you each one is known, loved and cherished. May we never forget them, but honour their sacrifice with deeds more than words”.
Within the same prayer the Pope prayed to the “Merciful God and Father of all, [to] wake us from the slumberof indifference, open our eyes to their suffering, and free us from the insensitivity born of worldly comfort and self-centredness”. He prayed the Merciful Father to “inspire us, as nations, communities and individuals, to see that those who come to our shores are our brothers and sisters. [To] share with them the blessings we have received from your hand, and recognize that together, as one human family, we are all migrants, journeying in hope to you, our true home, where every tear will be wiped away, where we will be at peace and safe in your embrace”.
Finally, Pope Francis acknowledged the heroic example of the inhabitants of Lesbos who, when confronted with the tragic plight of their brothers and sisters migrants, opted to open their hearts and welcome them. Adding that “God will repay this generosity, and that of other surrounding nations who from the beginning have welcomed with great openness the large numbers of people forced to migrate”.
Do we really believe and generously act on these words as a nation?