Monday, July 08, 2013

Benvenuto tra gli ultimi

Lampedusa. A tiny island, part of the Republic of Italy. Closer to Tunisia and the African coast than Europe. This was the site of Pope Francis' first Apostolic journey outside Rome today.

Lampedusa is the destination for thousands upon thousands of refugees and migrants, mainly from Africa. In recent years, some 20,000 have died in the attempt to make the journey to Europe. This was a "thorn in the heart" of the Pope, and he chose to come here to pray, to express solidarity, and to awake consciences.

This certainly is a Pope of powerful symbolic gestures, like the Prophets of the Bible! For his first official visit outside the Vatican, he went to a juvenile detention center. And now he comes to visit poor refugees. He meets them, and hugs them. He casts a wreathe in the waters in memory of those who died. He prays for them, and along with tens of thousands of the faithful, he celebrates Mass. A Mass in which the wood of refugee boats is used to make the lectern, the Crozier, and even the outside of a silver-lined chalice.

"Lampedusa, the chalice of the Pope carved from the wood of boats. 'The blood of: "
Cartoon by Italian cartoonist Mauro Biani, titled "Transubstantiation."

One banner captured it so well. Benvenuto tra gli ultimi "Welcome among the last ones." The last ones, those on the periphery, the margins, that he has spoken about so much. A Church that looks outwards, and isn't sick, self-referential.

The liturgical colors of the Mass were purple, for repentance, for mourning. The liturgical texts were for a Mass of Reparation. The Pope asked forgiveness of the migrants and refugees present. And he wished the Muslims among them a Happy Ramadan, which starts at sundown today. He thanked the local citizens and community of Lampedusa for their solidarity and efforts to save the lives of those who come here. Just this morning, the local Coast Guard rescued over 100 souls from a boat coming from Libya. And he asks all to have the courage to help those who are seeking a better life.

Yes, this warms our hearts. But it should absolutely provoke us. Prick our consciences. No, pierce them.
The culture of well-being, that makes us think of ourselves, that makes us insensitive to the cries of others, that makes us live in soap bubbles, that are beautiful but are nothing, are illusions of futility, of the transient, that brings indifference to others, that brings even the globalization of indifference. In this world of globalization we have fallen into a globalization of indifference. We are accustomed to the suffering of others, it doesn’t concern us, it’s none of our business.
He likens all of us to the priest and the Levite who walk by the way side, in the parable of the Good Samaritan. 

Of course, one cannot but think of the rancorous political discourse concerning immigration that is going on right now in the US. The Pope today made no policy prescriptions. No doubt these are complicated, and difficult. And the domain of the lay faithful, to work out in the public square along with others of good will. However, he reminds us, powerfully, that at the heart of these issues are human beings, made in the image and likeness of God, whom Christ commands us to love. He calls us all to the virtue of solidarity. To be our brothers' keeper. (Incidentally, an excerpt from Archbishop Gomez' book on immigration was published by the NY Post this weekend.) 

I can only imagine what the scene would have been like had he been at the U.S.-Mexico border and apologized to the economic migrants and others who come here, those whom we label so blithely, "illegals."  

But it's not just others' indifference that he reminded me of. No consolations here. No chance to rest content with insidious pride. "Well, you're better. You don't think that way about them." So much of our discourse centers on us having the right attitude and thoughts about all the issues, when it's what we do that matters in the end. I think back to an encounter in Rome's Termini station just over a week ago. Of an angry, anguished old man who wanted money to fill his anti-asthma inhaler. I interrupted his canned speech, and he angrily tore open his shirt and pointed to a scar from surgery, and spewed a torrent that I could barely follow. I offered to buy him some sandwiches and a cold drink. "Ma non ti do soldi, mi dispiace." He picked out what he wanted and mumbled an angry thanks and disappeared, when a woman appeared, her face pleading. "Qualcosa da bere, Padre. Ho sete." And I froze. Not another one! I will be here forever! Termini is crawling with beggars. How will I make my train? "Per piacere, Padre. Solo un succo ... " Her face is still etched in my mind. 

"Adam, where are you? Where is your brother?" 
We are a society that has forgotten the experience of weeping, of “suffering with”: the globalization of indifference has taken from us the ability to weep!
Thank you Papa Francesco, for your courage, your simplicity, and your reminder to us of the least of our brothers and sisters, of the virtue of solidarity.  

This morning, even as the Holy Father was on his way to Lampedusa (we're a few hours ahead of Central European Time here), I offered Holy Mass using the Ritual Mass for Civil Needs: for Refugees and Exiles, very grateful for the ability to join in prayer, in the mystery of the Eucharist, with Pope Francis, and so many thousands, millions of displaced peoples. 

O Lord, to whom no one is a stranger
and from whose help no one is every distant,
look with compassion on refugees and exiles,
on segregated persons and on lost children;
restore them, we pray, to a homeland,
and give us a kind heart for the needy and for strangers.
Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever. 

Vatican Insider's coverage of the day (Italian)

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