POPE FRANCIS described as "shameful" the fatal accident on
Thursday in which a boat carrying as many as 500 African migrants
to the southern Italian island of Lampedusa sank.
Addressing a conference in the Vatican on Thursday, he asked
everyone to "renew our efforts to ensure that such tragedies are
not to be repeated".
At least 130 people died as the boat, travelling from Misrata,
in Libya, sank approximately half a mile from the shore. Passengers
reportedly started a fire on board in an attempt to attract the
attention of coastguards, after the boat suffered engine-failure
and began taking in water.
On Friday, at least 130 of the migrants were confirmed dead, and
200 were unaccounted for. More than 150 people had been
On a day-long pilgrimage on Friday to Assisi to visit sites
associated with St Francis, the Pope condemned current global
treatment of refugees.
The world "does not care about the many people fleeing slavery,
hunger, fleeing in search of freedom. And how many of them die, as
happened yesterday! Today is a day of tears," he said.
The Italian government declared Friday a national day of
mourning, and schools observed a minute's silence. Rescue workers
continued to search Sicilian waters for survivors. The Mayor of
Lampedusa, Giusi Nicolini, said: "It is horrific, like a cemetery.
They are still bringing them out."
The Italian deputy prime minister, Angelo Alfano, said at a
press conference in Rome that the accident illustrated that Europe
need to assist in dealing with the ongoing influx of refugees. He
said that this was "a European tragedy, not just an Italian
The UN reported that most of the migrants on the boat were from
Eritrea and Somalia. The High Commissioner for Refugees, António
Guterres, commended the swift action of the Italian coastguard to
save lives. Mr Guterres expressed his dismay at the rising number
of people who perished at sea in attempts to flee from conflict or
This was the second fatal accident this week causing migrants'
deaths off Italy's coast. On Monday, the bodies of 13 Eritrean men
were washed up on a Sicilian beach, after the men attempted to swim
ashore when their ship ran aground.
Pope Francis chose Lampedusa for his first official visit
outside Rome, at the beginning of July. He said then that each time
he heard of immigrants dying at sea, the thought of a way of hope
ending in a way of death "always returns as a thorn in the
The Archdeacon of Italy and Malta, the Ven. Jonathan
The tragedy of last week's shipwreck off Lampedusa
is just another episode in a horrific saga of human exploitation
and misery. Many of the West Africans who worship in Anglican
chaplaincies in Italy came to Europe as long ago as the early 90s
by trekking across the Sahara and then risking everything by
seeking passage across the Mediterranean. Their tales of
deprivation, constant danger and the nearness of death emerge only
when pressed - the trauma is too difficult regularly to recall.
Our archdeaconry's own involvement in trying to
address the present intensification of the crisis is to assist
partners with a presence on Lampedusa itself, principally the
Community of Sant'Egidio. This lay RC movement, founded in 1968 by
Andrea Riccardi, the minister for Integration in the last Italian
government, works all year round through a Lampedusa parish to
assist the unaccompanied minors who arrive on the island.
Intensification of arrivals in the summer months has led the
community to organise their own youth members as a team to befriend
the growing number of child refugees, who are the only ones with an
automatic right to stay in the country.
In summer 2011, All Saints' Anglican Church, Rome
funded the provision of 1000 bibles in English at the request of
Sant'Egidio to be distributed to these young people. But concern
goes much further than their spiritual needs. Even before this
latest shipwreck, at its annual inter-religious peace conference
last weekend, attended by the Archbishop of Armagh, Dr Richard
Clarke, and Dame Mary Tanner to represent Anglicans, Sant'Egidio
was calling for an integrated pan-European approach to the
humanitarian crisis. Italy simply cannot cope with the pressure, in
spite of a high degree of human sympathy for the refugees.
The waters in which these poveri cristi,
the normal Italian expression for needy humans but meaning
literally 'poor Christs' are perishing are the same ones where St
Paul suffered shipwreck. Concerted ecumenical and integrated
European effort needs to be applied in finding a resolution to this
humanitarian disaster rather than abandoning Italy to go it