Pope speaks out against ‘culture of comfort’

Francis condemns ‘globalisation of indifference’ on visit to migrant island

Pope Francis speaks yesterday to migrants on the island of Lampedusa, where he celebrated Mass on a simple altar that sat on a fishing boat. Photograph: Alessandra Tarantino/Reuters

Pope Francis speaks yesterday to migrants on the island of Lampedusa, where he celebrated Mass on a simple altar that sat on a fishing boat. Photograph: Alessandra Tarantino/Reuters


On a visit that seems destined to set the tone for his entire pontificate, Pope Francis yesterday railed against modern man’s “culture of comfort” which leads to the “globalisation of indifference”.

For his first official visit outside Rome, Francis chose the highly significant destination of Lampedusa, off Sicily, an island that is closer to Africa than to Europe and one which has long been the first arrival point in Europe of thousands of African boat people or illegal economic migrants.

Recalling the more than 20,000 migrants estimated to have perished in attempted crossings over the last 20 years, Pope Francis said yesterday: “Who is responsible for the blood of these brothers and sisters of ours? Nobody! That is our answer: It isn’t me; I don’t have anything to do with it; it must be someone else, but certainly not me . . .”

The fate of the African boat people recalls the biblical parable of the Good Samaritan, with people ready to feel sympathy for the migrant but not stopping to help, said the pope, adding: “The culture of comfort, which makes us think only of ourselves, makes us insensitive to the cries of other people, makes us live in soap bubbles which, however lovely, are insubstantial. They offer a fleeting and empty illusion which results in indifference to others. Indeed, it even leads to the globalisation of indifference . . .”

‘Deadened hearts’
In what was a “penitential” liturgy, Francis went on to ask “forgiveness” for the “deadened hearts” of the “complacent and closed” as well as “forgiveness for those who by their decisions on the global level have created situations that lead to these tragedies”.

Even yesterday’s Mass, celebrated in front of 10,000 people in Lampedusa’s small sports ground, was itself full of symbolic significance. For a start, Francis chose to concelebrate with two local priests: Archbishop of Agrigento, Francesco Montenegro and local parish priest Don Stefano Nastasi, the man who within days of his election had invited the pope to Lampedusa last March.

Second, no cardinals nor politicians were invited to a visit that took both the Holy See and Italian diplomatic machines by surprise and which saw requests for an invitation being politely but firmly refused.

Knew nothing
On top of that, even the Vatican’s secretariat of state knew nothing about the visit until the pope himself sprang it on them, when it was announced just one week ago.

Furthermore, the Mass was celebrated on an improvised altar that sat on a Lampedusa fishing boat, while the lectern used for the readings of scripture was made up of bits of wood taken from the remains of some of the many rickety boats in which migrants arrive.

Fittingly, the Mass was said against the background of a graveyard of these unseaworthy vessels, long since washed up and abandoned.

Coast Guard boat
Even though the pope had flown down to Lampedusa from Rome, he immediately transferred on arrival to a coast guard boat, thus retracing the steps of the migrants as he sailed into the island harbour. When he arrived in port, Francis stopped to talk to some of the 160 Africans, reportedly Eritrean, who had landed on the island just hours earlier.

During the sea leg of his journey, the pope’s boat was accompanied by a small armada of fishermen’s boats bearing banners such as “Habemus papem” and “Pope Francis, only you can save us”. Before he alighted from the vessel, Francis threw a wreath of yellow and white chrysanthemums into the sea in memory of the boat people.