Vatican City, 2014 (VIS) – Yesterday afternoon the Holy Father received a delegation of Eritrean survivors and relatives of the victims of the shipwreck that occurred a year ago in the waters of Lampedusa, Sicily, in which 368 migrants lost their lives. The delegation was composed of 37 people – more than 20 survivors and some relatives – from the various European countries where they have settled, often with family members who were already present there. These countries include Germany, Sweden, Norway, the Netherlands and Denmark. Other survivors are due to arrive tomorrow, to join the delegation to participate in the commemoration of the tragedy in Lampedusa tomorrow. A few days ago a proposal was put forward to the Italian parliament that 3 October be declared a “Day of Remembrance for Victims of the Sea”.
The delegation was organised by the “3 October Committee”, chaired by Tareke Brhane, and was accompanied by Archbishop Konrad Krajewski, almoner of His Holiness, and Fr. Giovanni Lamanna, former president of the Astalli Centre, the Italian home of the Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS), an international Catholic organisation active in more than forty countries, whose mission is to accompany and assist refugees and asylum-seekers, and to defend their rights.
During the meeting, which took place in a room adjacent to the Vatican's Paul VI Hall, one of the refugees addressed the Pope, asking for his help and support in work that remains to be done, for instance in identifying the bodies, that in some cases has not yet been possible. Another young person thanked the Pope for his support for and interest in the welfare of migrants and refugees.
The Pope, moved by these testimonies, said, “I cannot find the words to say what I feel. What you have suffered is to be contemplated in silence; one weeps, and seeks a way of being close to you. At times, when you seem to have arrived in the port, we encounter very difficult situations. You find closed doors and do not know where to go. But there are many people whose hearts are open to you. The door of the heart is the most important in these moments. I implore all men and women in Europe to open the doors of their hearts! I want to say that I am close to you, I pray for you, I pray that the closed doors open up”.
The delegation presented the Holy Father with a sculpture in iron, depicting a bottle in the sea, containing a family. At the end of the encounter, the Pope personally greeted all those present.