Pope calls for compassion for refugees and economic migrants

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Pope Francis has travelled to the island of Lampedusa to make a speech calling for an end to the 'globalisation of indifference'. He said that the west has a 'brotherly responsibility' to look after refugees and migrants and asked for forgiveness for the indifference that allowed their suffering.

Lampedusa is an Italian island in the Mediterranean Sea which is about 70 miles (113 kilometres) off the coast of Tunisia. It has, therefore, been the first landing place of more than 200,000 people from Africa since 1999. No one knows how many have died attempting to reach the island. The Italian navy takes boats that it intercepts at sea to the island for processing.

A boat containing 166 people arrived just hours before the pope flew in on the morning of Monday 8th July 2013. It was his first trip away from Rome since he became pope He went for a sea trip on a launch and threw a wreath into the sea to commemorate those who drowned attempting to reach Europe. He later celebrated mass in the open air and gave a sermon to a crowd of immigrants and islanders.

'We are no longer attentive to the world in which we live'

In his address, he wished the Muslims who were present his best wishes for the start of Ramadan. He called for more compassion and concern for those in need. He said 'we are no longer attentive to the world in which we live, we don't care, we don't protect that which God has created for all, and we are unable to care for one another. And when this disorientation assumes worldwide dimensions, we arrive at tragedies like the one we have seen'.

'These, our brothers and sisters, seek to leave difficult situations in order to find a little serenity and peace, they seek a better place for themselves and for their families – but they find death. How many times to those who seek this not find understanding? Do not find welcome? Do not find solidarity?'

He asked 'Who is responsible for the blood of these brothers and sisters? No one! We all respond this way: 'not me, it has nothing to do with me, there are others, certainly not me'. But God asks each one of us: 'where is the blood of your brother that cries out to me?''

Globalisation of indifference

He said 'we are a society that has forgotten the experience of weeping, of "suffering with": the globalisation of indifference has taken from us the ability to weep'. 'we ask forgiveness for the indifference towards so many brothers and sisters, we ask forgiveness for those who are pleased with themselves, who are closed in on their own well-being in a way that leads to the anaesthesia of the heart'.

Pope Francis is the leader of the world's 1.2bn Roman Catholics. He was born in Buenos Aires, Argentina in 1936, the son of Italian immigrants. He has a reputation for frugality and for concern for the poor. The fact that this was his first trip as pope seems to signal an intention to make the plight of refugees and economic migrants a priority.

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