Pope prays for migrants, as 200 more die at sea [In-Depth]
Rescue workers from the Proactiva Open Arms Spanish NGO retrieve the bodies of an adult and a child amid the drifting remains of a destroyed migrant boat off the Libyan coast, on Tuesday July 17, 2018. (Credit: Proactiva Open Arms via AP)
ROME — Pope Francis Sunday marked the World Day of Migrants and Refugees, asking the world to pray for those forced to flee their homes at the close of a deadly week in which around 200 migrants seeking entry into Europe drowned in the Mediterranean.
Speaking during his Sept. 27 Sunday Angelus address, the pope waved and offered a special greeting to a group of migrants and refugees standing next to the “Angels Unaware” statue in a rainy St. Peter’s Square.
A group of around 50 people were standing next to the statue, some of whom were holding banners for the Italian Sant’Egidio community, known for its charitable social work.
Pope Francis, who has made the issue of migration a cornerstone of his papacy, blessed the statue by Timothy Schmalz — which depicts 140 migrants ranging from a Jewish man escaping Nazi Germany to a Syrian refugee fleeing war, as well as Mary and Joseph, the parents of Jesus — during last year’s World Day of Migrants and Refugees.
This year, the day was marked throughout Italy with Masses, photo exhibits, special soup-kitchen lunches, conferences, and prayer events.
In his remarks to pilgrims, Francis noted that like the parents of Jesus, migrants, refugees and the internally displaced are also “forced to flee.”
“This is the same for migrants and the displaced,” he said, adding, “They, and those who assist them, in a special way receive our remembrance and our prayer.
Francis’s remarks come after a particularly deadly week for migrants attempting to cross the Mediterranean, which the pope has often likened to a “cemetery” due to the number of people who drown attempting to escape violence and poverty.
In the past week alone, nearly 200 migrants traveling from Libya to Europe died in five separate incidents at sea. While migrants in distress are often helped by passing boats or NGO rescue vessels, no Italian ships were in the waters to come to their aid at the times the incidents occurred due to restrictions on civil sea rescues.
According to Avvenire, the newspaper of the Italian bishops’ conference, one migrant ship sunk Sept. 21, leading to the death of 111 people. Only nine of the boat’s passengers survived thanks to a fishing boat which found them only after several days at sea and brought them aboard.